Monday, 4 May 2009

Socialism and mid-life crises

Well, only one mid-life crisis and thankfully not mine but comedian, socialist and general political pundit, Mark Steel's in his new book What's Going On?: The Meanderings of a Comic Mind in Confusion which I have just finished reading. It was a weird read - some parts of it I utterly related to, such as Steel's confusion about how the world has changed so that people think you're mad, naive and a bit stupid if you suggest that things could ever be run on any other basis than profit. It really brought home to me how insidious this mind-set is, as he reminded us how things used to be run differently and how many other ways of doing things there actually are.
It was also terribly sad to hear of the gradual disintegration of his relationship with the mother of his children and how this coincided with him turning 40 and questioning so much of his life up until that point. It made me very glad that I am not having to deal with that at least.
Unlike Steel, I'd never joined a political party or believed that party politics was remotely helpful - maybe this is because I'm that little bit younger than Steel, as he discusses in the book how anyone younger than 30 (I'm not that young!) genuinely doesn't understand the entire concept of socialism. Steel charts the rise of protest, not organised by specific political parties but on an issue-by-issue basis, and how people are reluctant to join an actual party as they distrust the apparatus of party politics, and how this maybe dilutes the opposition to the current government. He also admits that protest and dissent has changed, that the internet plays a bigger role than he ever thought possible.
Some parts of it clanged with me though - ironically, right about the time that Steel was decrying all the splits, schisms and in-fighting amongst the Left, he was still propagating this himself in his little digs against those of us whose preoccupation is green issues rather than trade unions, or who choose to live in rural or small towns rather than in cities. His implication seemed to be that wanting to eat fresh local food was a very middle class desire with no place in Left-leaning politics, which is a shame. I really think that if the remnants of the Left got together with the Greens, it could be rather interesting. Again it was particularly ironic as Steel also pointed out how the role of class has changed with regard to Left politics, and how definitions of class have themselves changed. I can understand that if you were a 1980s striking miner, organic food might seem to be a rather lah-di-dah concept, but this is ignoring the fact that organics and permaculture and many other green movements which are now much more mainstream were developing amongst the same counterculture as the union-dominated Left of that time.
However, that criticism apart, Mark Steel is a hugely knowledgeable and vastly entertaining writer and speaker and even though this book has you chuckling at least every other line, it also feels like you're being educated. It's a bit like a discussion with an older and wiser friend, it has you laughing and nodding and generally feeling validated. Well, it did for me anyway, if you were a supporter of Margaret Thatcher, you may not enjoy it quite so much. I can't help but think Mark Steel would be a fun person to go down the pub with.


Cave Mother said...

On the whole politics thing, my partner figured that the best way to change things (albeit in a very small way) was to do it from the inside, so he joined the Lib Dems who seemed to be the party that best represented his beliefs. What he found was a group of people obsessed with their past successes, full of their own self-importance, delighting in sitting around in meetings but unable to organise the proverbial piss up in a brewery. I say they liked sitting in meetings - well, that was only they could be bothered turning up. Two council elections later he has become totally disenchanted with the whole thing, and has come to the conclusion that the people we elect really are the last people we would ever want representing our views. Pretty depressing stuff. But I enjoyed your book review!

Liz said...

Yes, it is difficult to know how to make a difference really. I write to my MP about stuff and he always writes back and says 'oh yes, I completely agree and when the conservatives are in power we will do all this stuff' and I think 'yeah, right, you lying snake', and am never sure it's actually worth writing to him.