Friday, 15 July 2011


Woke up this mornin' (dum dah, dah dum)... Began to suspect I was dead...

Dead, or transported back in time to around 1973. It was weird. The radio came on, and in place of the Today Programme's bickering politicos and harumphing presenters, some guy was telling me all about Kronstadt and the NEP. "Lenin vsegda s nami!" (Lenin is always with us), someone sang. WTF?? Maybe there had been a revolution. Whatever, it was still time to get up.

It turned out that BBC journalists were on strike, over cuts and job losses at the World Service. The Today Programme finally came on at 7:00, hustled through the ethereal picket lines by a crew of scab journos (Sarah Montague, you disappoint me; Justin Webb, well, I might have known). But my head had well and truly been returned to a previous epoch, when the word "Kronstadt!" signalled a lively discussion, possibly ending in a fist-fight.

I have mentioned my political past a few times before (e.g. Turning Up) but rarely has it seemed quite so long ago as it did this morning. The early history of the Soviet Union once seemed rather like the Big Bang -- it was thought to be crucial to understand the sub-atomic political manoeuverings and betrayals of that time, to stand any chance of understanding the subsequent history of the universe. In March 1921, were the sailors of Kronstadt deluded counter-revolutionaries or heroes of anarchism and freedom from Bolshevik oppression? Was Trotsky a ruthless, murdering oppressor or a clear-eyed revolutionary strategist? Revolutionary politics could often seem like a series of complex, overlapping blood feuds. Or a long-running soap opera.

Nobody cares much now. It's all sitting in the archives somewhere -- all the books, magazines, newspapers, flyers, posters, handouts, minutes, membership lists -- and is gradually acquiring the status of the once-urgent theological disputes of the Middle Ages. History. In retrospect, it is hilarious, and a little tragic, that so many bright young people once wasted so much time trying to turn the crank of a machine that had already had all its fuel stolen (the last of it chucked about as Molotovs in Paris 1968).

Where are they now, our old comrades? A very few have kept the faith, patiently awaiting a change in the political weather. Some have disappeared without trace. Most, like me, have ended up as middle-ranking public servants with self-limited careers, propping up local trades union branches, and eternally skeptical of "management". But some are now household names: prominent academics, journalists, broadcasters, politicians and lawyers, including a former Director of Public Prosecutions, senior members of the Labour Party, and a current Coalition minister. The Establishment, in a word.

I wonder, did any of them wake up this morning, too, and have a flashback to the days when they sat in the proverbial smoke-filled rooms, plotting the downfall of capitalism? And I wonder if any of them then crossed the picket lines at the BBC, too busy and too senior, now, to lose a day's work to "workerist tokenism"?


Martyn Cornell said...

Hmmm - not a lot of interest generally in politics among your regular commentators, by the look of the lack of comments so far. Let me make up for that.

I joined the Labour Party Young Socialists when I was 16, because I was interested in politics, because my father was a trades unionist and Labour Party member, and also because I thought, as one does at 16, that it might be a way to meet girls. I was quickly made branch chairman for no better reason than no one else wanted the job. Two years of sitting through dull, dull ward committee meetings and the like convinced me that the long period of footsoldier work essential for anyone who wants to start a career in politics really wasn't something I could be bothered to do: chances of extreme tedium, very high, chances of success, very low. So I stopped being involved, just as the Militant Tendency Trots were taking over the LPYS - Kate Morris can tell you all about that, I think. I read their literature, and their newspaper, and it seemed so ungrounded in reality it held no lure at all.

Still went off and did politics at university, though, but didn't get involved with live on-the-ground politics there: ironically, someone else on my course also wasn't involved in student politics, but went on to become an important part of New Labour and is now in the House of Lords.

Back in the real world, being a local newspaper journalist wasn't really the kind of career you could combine with being an active member of a local political party, since one was meant to be neutral, although I did become father of the chapel (union shop steward) at both the first two newspapers I worked for, once again because no one else wanted the job.

When I moved to London I did try to get involved with the Labour Party again, but I was mostly doing jobs where I was working every evening, when party meetings tyook place, and anyway, once again I found myself struggling with the fact that I find committees unbelievably dull. I would, I really, really would, rather be down the pub.

Mike C. said...


It's odd, the higher the readership goes, the fewer the comments. I envy you your lively community of zythophiles.

The tedium of meetings is the key. There is a whole stratum of Good People who wish for a better world, but for whom meetings in draughty halls is a form of slow death. We know what we should do, but...

I compare it with my desire for the flat, six-pack belly I used to have, long ago... I know how to do it -- simple: moderate consumption and frequent exercise -- but everything in my being shouts FORGETABOUTIT! I suspect we are at one on this issue.

So, as always, the power (and the six-packs) end up with those constitutionally-inclined to accept and enjoy the price of entry.

I did enjoy occupying buildings and shouting a lot, but that's the greasy kids' stuff. I didn't enjoy the grown up version. Who does?

Perhaps, one day, someone will think of a way of making politics fun -- hmm, or was that Hitler? Maybe the true price of democracy is eternal meetings. Sigh... The trouble is, as soon as we get web-based push-button politics, public hangings (and worse) will be back.