Stephen Pollard is an Ignorant Git

Daniel Davies has noticed, too, which will certainly help the evolution of the relevant google page.

I’ll just note here that his comments box [and scroll down] is also haunted by another ignorant git. There’s a chap called Andrew Ian Dodge who posts nonsense on some of the blogs I read from time to time, such as at Harry’s Place, whom I first noticed when he wandered into my comments box to make an obviously false allegation, and who really outdoes himself this time with this piece of illiterate rubbish:

Yeah never really understood why the left does not give a damn about the Kurds. They get slaughtered (with WMDs no less) and the left actively campaigns against saving them (rather than say staying neutral). While on the other hand, black Africans get killed and we have to rush in and save them.

Thinking back to the time of Halabja, I can remember Kurds protesting, I can remember far-left Trotskyist groups protesting, I can even remember an early-day motion signed by a bunch of mostly left-wing Labour MPs protesting.And I can remember a Tory government in general and David Mellor MP in particular doing their best to ensure that this little atrocity didn’t disrupt the profitable relationship that the British state enjoyed with the Baathists, and very little interest from the back benches of the Conservative Party (or indeed, from the front bench of the Opposition) in what was going on.

I wonder, by contrast, what Andrew Ian Dodge can remember of that time that I have been managing to forget?

(I suspect that the key to understanding Andrew Ian Dodge lies in deciphering this page, which Matthew Turner pointed me towards once upon a time. But I can’t manage to get beyond the first few sentences. Apparently he has a blog with a stupid name over here, though I can’t say I’ve ever read it.)

Great Coincidences of Our Time

In The New Republic, dated 1 October 2001, sociology professor Alan Wolfe published a highly critical review of Empire, by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. In this week’s Independent, Johann Hari wrote of his own encounter with the book and with one of its authors. Here’s a snippet from each:

Wolfe: Here, in prose that insults language, is how Hardt and Negri summarize what they have understood: “The analysis of real subsumption, when this is understood as investing not only the economic or only the cultural dimension of society but rather the social bios itself, and when it is attentive to the modalities of disciplinarity and/or control, disrupts the linear and totalitarian figure of capitalist development.”

Hari: Here is a typical Negri sentence, selected at random: “The analysis of real subsumption, when this is understood as investing not only the economic or only the cultural dimension of society but rather the social bios itself, and when it is attentive to the modalities of disciplinarity and/or control, disrupts the linear and totalitarian figure of capitalist development.” After 400 pages of this, I feel like I have been raped by a dictionary of sociology.

Do we believe that Hari is telling the truth when he says that he selected this sentence at random? I’m inclined to believe not.

The odds on picking that particular sentence at random are pretty high: several thousand to one, against. The Wolfe piece is probably the most intelligent of the various hit-pieces that were commissioned on the book within a year or so of its first publication, and one of the better known ones, and so I’d be surprised if Hari’s “research” for his article didn’t extend that far. Hari admits that he struggled with the book, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he sought out and then leant on smarter critics when it came to acquiring opinions about Empire. What do you think?

(The Wolfe piece is no longer freely available at The New Republic, but someone has archived a copy here.)

UPDATE [7.45pm]: I now realise that Johann didn’t even have to read Wolfe’s piece to get his ready-made opinions about Empire; all he had to do to find his particular sentence “at random” was read back through the archives of Harry’s Place, the blog to which he contributes, where he would have found Gene quoting that bit of Wolfe quoting that same bloody bit of Hardt and Negri, and making the same oh-it’s-so-unreadable sneer along the way.

Non-Debate [cont.]

SIAW make an impressive contribution to what they call the non-debate over the life of the left triggered by the recent Nick Cohen piece in the New Statesman, in which they make a number of very good points: that Cohen’s piece is quite muddled, that Norman Geras’s defence of the life and mission of the left is over-generalised [see above], and that “an entity that can expand to include New Labour and the Liberal Democrats, or their equivalents in other polities, then contract, often within the same passage, to exclude everyone but the obscure sect and/or obscurer guru a given writer is loyal to, is probably not worth spending much more time on”.

We disagree, I think, over the interpretation of the scope of what we might (pretentiously) call the Cohen thesis. SIAW expressed the hope that while “dancing on the corpse of the one big left, there are indeed many little ‘lefts’, as Cohen (we hope) was trying to say”, and they list some of them. But I think this hope is misplaced, given Cohen’s remarkable claim towards the end (which I’ve quoted before), that, “unless you believe that the failure of the world’s peoples to look leftwards is all the result of brainwashing by the corporate media, you have to conclude that the left is dead.”

But I think the key to our disagreement over our diagnosis of the life or otherwise of the left can probably be found when SIAW note that the words like liberty, equality, fraternity, solidarity, justice and peace “are the kinds of terms that cause arguments rather than resolve them”, therefore not any kind of key to the unity of the left. But perhaps we should be thinking of the left not as organised around a particular set of strong, contestable interpretations of various value words, but as loosely structured by the existence of the arguments themselves?

SIAW argue that there’s no single, coherent, institutional left, organised by an International around a coherent programme for change. True enough. But why should we leftists be terribly bothered by that?

Again, SIAW write that “the left ‘as a serious political project’ died long ago, some time in the early 1920s if not before, when the deepest division of all – that between reformists and revolutionaries – became set in stone. From that basic division there followed many others, as the ‘left’, far from controlling the currents of history, was buffeted to and fro.” But no left ever “controlled the currents of history” (whatever that might mean) — not the Bolsheviks, not the Second International, not the Jacobins — and the distinction between “reformists and revolutionaries” can be crucial, and sometimes lethal, but if it became “set in stone” and of immense importance in real-world politics, that was only because of the polarising effects of the Bolshevik revolution on the European and, later, world socialist parties. Now that those regimes are consigned to the dustbin of history, there’s no particular reason to allow that distinction to dominate our political thinking any more.

So to come back to SIAW’s direct challenges to me: early on they write:

(On the other hand, it does seem surprisingly sniffy of Chris Brooke – who normally comes across as being unusually free from academic snobbery – to take Cohen to task for restricting himself to Anglophone examples, given that he is, after all, an Anglophone journalist writing a limited-wordage column for Anglophone readers, not a theoretician free to cite sources in several different languages across hundreds of pages, whether he�s read them or not; and, by the way, can Chris, or anyone else, find plausible counter-examples from some non-Anglophone left or other?)

And they repeat the point at the end:

Of course we�d prefer to agree with Chris Brooke that �rumours of death� are �greatly exaggerated� – do you really think that we enjoy looking at the twitching corpse of a tradition that we can only wish was going strong? – but we�re still waiting for those counter-examples.

What can I say? Against the charge of academic snobbery, I plead not guilty. The point of what I wrote wasn’t to convict Cohen of not reading enough difficult theoretical texts in foreign languages — far from it! — but to highlight the problem, or so it seemed to me, of drawing such sweeping conclusions from such parochial examples.And what of the counter-examples? Well, they’re the usual suspects, I’m afraid: the global justice movement, or the “movement of movements”, as it’s sometimes called, and the various bits and pieces that get grouped together under that heading: those who work with refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants; the Brazilian landless workers movement and other land rights movements around the world; the Karnataka State Farmers Association and many other trade unions; ATTAC and the international Social Forums (Fora?) which it’s helped to spawn; Oxfam; the opposition to Robert Mugabe’s thuggish regime (and yes, even some of the neoliberal MDC opposition to Mugabe); the Rawlsians and their leftist critics in the universities; Amnesty International; the Zapatistas; Students United Against Sweatshops and their ilk; the governments of Lula and Hugo Ch�vez (much of the time); European social democratic governments (some of the time, increasingly rarely, in fact); the food sovereignty movement; just about any attempt to redistribute resources from the affluent to the poor; together with the usual spectrum of organisations continuing the long, hard work of liberating and empowering women, sexual minorities, the disabled, indigenous peoples, and so on, and so forth, and so it goes on. You can guess some of the rest.

That’s my left, perhaps it’s even my Left, and it’s one that gives me quite a lot of hope for the future, even if it does get buffeted a bit by the currents of history along the way. But then, how could it not be?

Shakespeare’s Tragedies

Responding to this, I’ve just sent in this pretty arbitrary ranking:

1. Macbeth
2. Hamlet
3. King Lear
4. Othello

With the caveats that I agree that Macbeth is really difficult to put on stage, so works better on cassette tape or film (Throne of Blood) than in any staged version I’ve seen, and that Verdi’s Otello is a really fine opera, and I wouldn’t want my (comparatively) low ranking to suggest otherwise…

Favourite Shakespeare play of all: The Winter’s Tale.
Shakespeare play I like that no-one else seems to: Coriolanus.

Labour Defended Against the Claims of Capital

A few months ago, you may recall, I serialised Oscar Wilde’s essay, “The Soul of Man under Socialism”, at the Virtual Stoa, republishing it in bite-sized chunks in order that the blog generation — shortened attention span and all — might enjoy a fresh encounter with something that is both a rather fine piece of writing and a significant and often under-appreciated contribution to the literature of the Left.

I’ve been pondering a sequel for a while now, and the text I keep coming back to is Thomas Hodgskin’s pamphlet, Labour Defended Against the Claims of Capital, which was first published in London in 1825 and which went on to be considered one of the classics of the so-called Ricardian socialist economics.

For those who want to read ahead, the pamphlet is available elsewhere on the web, for example, here or here. I’ll be basing this blog edition on the text provided by the Avalon Project website at Yale Law School, checking it against the facsimile of the original edition in David Reisman’s recent Pickering edition.

I’ll supply some further background notes at the start of the second instalment, but – there being no time like the present – it’s time to kick off this new serial with the Notice that appears ahead of the main body of the text…


In all the debates on the law passed during the late session of Parliament, on account of the combinations of workmen, much stress is laid on the necessity of protecting capital. What capital performs is therefore a question of considerable importance, which the author was, on this account, induced to examine. As the result of that examination, it is his opinion that all the benefits attributed to capital arise from co-existing and skilled labour. He feels himself, on this account, called on to deny that capital has any just claim to the large share of the national produce now bestowed on it. This large share he has endeavored to show is the cause of the poverty of the labourer; and he ventures to assert that the condition of the labourer can never be permanently improved till he can refute the theory, and is determined to oppose the practice of giving nearly everything to capital.

Is Stephen Pollard An Illiterate Git Or Am I?

Pollard writes today in the Sunday Telegraph (as recorded on his blog) that “There is only one story which really gets some commentators’ wickers up and that is that the Blairs have chosen to holiday in homes belonging to Sir Cliff Richard, Prince Girolamo Strozzi and Silvio Berlusconi.”

The claim of substance that he makes in the sentence is obviously false, as so often in Pollard’s writing, but that’s not what bothers me here. Rather it’s the word “wickers”. There’s a phrase “to get on [someone’s] wick” [see OED, “wick”, 2.a.], and this could be a clumsy attempt to render that thought. And I read also that “wicker” as a verb can be used instead of “whicker”, which means to whinny, or “To utter a half-suppressed laugh; to snigger, titter”, which might work in a slightly different context, but not really here, as he’s not really writing about journalists who mock the Blairs.

And Google doesn’t really help either: the main uses of the words “wicker up” seem to be found in furniture catalogues, but again, I don’t think that that’s the metaphor that Pollard’s using.

So is this some horse-racing jargon that Pollard has in his vocabulary to which I’m happily not privy, or is he a master of linguistic invention to whom I should defer?

Or is he illiterate, or am I?

Summer Reading Update

Most of the time, I only pay attention to the world of cycling in July, and then only for the duration of the Tour de France. When the race has reached Paris, or, usually, after the final mountain stage, I stop paying attention until the next Tour comes around the following year, as it always does.

Something different is going on this year. Not only have I been keeping half an eye on the two Olympic road race events yesterday and today, but I’ve also begun reading books about professional cycling, which I’ve never done before. I mentioned Matt Rendell’s Significant Other a bit earlier; I’ve just finished William Fotheringham’s splendid book about the death of Tom Simpson in 1967 on the Ventoux, Put Me Back on My Bike; and I’ve got two more lined up on my recently-acquired-books shelf: Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s history of the Tour, and Rendell’s earlier book about the history and politics of Colombian cycling.

So I’ll be a much better-educated cycling fan by the time the 2005 Tour kicks off in the Vend�e.

(Other recommendations of quality cycling lit more than more than welcome.)