Laurie Penny expresses her abhorrence of sectarianism in her characteristic witty and aphoristic style:
Of course, the old left is not about to disappear completely. It is highly likely that even after a nuclear attack, the only remaining life-forms will be cockroaches and sour-faced vendors of the Socialist Worker.
It's true the left/communists=cockroaches image is a bit tattered and tired, not even freshly retro since it's become a Glenn Beck favourite, but this doesn't significantly detract from Penny's bracing, piercing, mind-expanding brilliance of insight and analysis when she applies her theoretical powertools to received ideas. According to Penny, it is not necessarily, as the standard wisdom would have it, high income high net worth white baby boomers who commit acts of vandalism during street protests and throw rocks at mounted police. No in fact her investigations have uncovered that teens from the most materially deprived communities who come from social spheres saturated with violence are in fact the culprits.
Every sentence is a work of staggeringly original, brave and courageous thought of this type.
As for the cockroaches, one can only hope one day for them to adopt a sense of humour about themselves and learn to read in a less egoist and paranoid style:
Jennifer Izaakson-Jones Laurie, if you have political disagreements with democratic centralism and essentially, Leninism, then write political analysis about it...but that's not what you did. You compared SWP members to cockroaches. Maybe I missed the joke.
Laurie Penny I didn't compare you to cockroaches! The only similarity is you'll still be around after the nuclear holocaust. I'll be disappointed if not. Say anything about the SWP, your tenacity is endearing.
Friday at 2:53pm
Of course the official SWP line now is that Jenny and Laurie, being both female, have no subjective dimension at all, no moral, rational or egoic agency after years of self-commodification. They're putes hawking more than a nasty dirty newspaper as they walk the streets. Also they cannot converse with one another in a non-hostile manner on any topic other than their boyfriends, babies, vibrators or cosmetics. Perhaps Izaakson-Jones was constrained by this dictate to rebuke Penny rather than congratulate her with appropriate gushing on another brain-meltingly enlightening column.
If you come within a yard of these folks' prose, sarcasm just invades and overwhelms you.
Apart from reminding us that reds are roaches - which Guardian readers have surely not forgotten - Laurie Penny's article might give the impression that what she defines as the networked youth movement without organization has achieved something beyond media attention.
It put me in mind of an unofficial visit paid to a Vico seminar I attended at University by the great Umberto Eco. He was lamenting then the fading of certain interpersonal levelling or democratisation that had been adopted in American higher education over the sixties and seventies and the return of the daily rituals and customs of traditional hierarchy. Today we see all this podium use and speaker/authority addressing polite and attentive auditors established and reproducing the hierarchies of unmerited authority even more intensely and effectively than before the disruption. That is, the typical scene of pedagogy in the 50s university was more democratic and egalitarian than the scene today, with a slavish deference afforded to mere celebrity and the podium's status alone. I was also reminded of Zadie Smith complaining to Charlie Rose about how her American students at Harvard - not elementary school kids, but undergraduates - addressed her as Zadie not Miss Smith, and how she found this disconcerting. This last feeble vestige of a (then judged highly compromised by the military-indutrial complex) mildly democratic culture irked her as informal and disrespectful, denying her the emotional benefits of her ("earned", I suppose) superiority. She made this observation even while performing her self-abnegation as a beginner, mere apprentice in her profession, etc.. - that is, her desire to sneer down the ladder was accompanied by a display of eagerness to grovel up. This startlingly reactionary posture was apparently invisible to its producer, its critique imaginable of course but only as a familiar blurr in the course of being waved by with the stanchly self-satisfied liberal's yes, but. It is impossible to imagine earlier literary wunderkind behaving quite like this, but White Teeth had hit chick lit level sales and a mini-series adaptation. Smith's politics, small scale and large, harmonize perfectly with her wealth and the status of such wealth in this historical moment (a moment of historically low capital gains tax and asset bubbles guaranteeing the rapid growth of such fortunes and the rapid immiseration of those without them, supplying those with them with an environment of fawning and servility).
It is difficult no doubt for those Laurie Penny's age to grasp what a profoundly democratic culture and democratic social interactions are really like, and so they mistake mere disorganization and the loose assemblages of "fans of" (what those who sell to them call "markets") for something both excitingly new and in itself democratizing, egalitarian, "revolutionary". Even a shallow thinker taking the question serious can see this is not at all the case, and the most comical aspect of Laurie Penny is how contentedly ignorant she is of how old a cliché her delusion is.
To supply the lack of negotiated goals and strategy for achieving them, a belief in the efficacy of some mystical unity of purpose is to suffice to ensure the success of the release of benevolent energies. The swarm is passionate and good and therefore must succeed in overcoming evil. The disgust for the Socialist Worker expresses not only age old liberal revulsion at those Reds, infestations of tenacious vermin whom even Nazis can't seem to exterminate, but a newly ferocious loathing of newspapers because they suggest that this adoreable naïve passion and goodness is not enough, that dancing and crying in the streets and tweeting about it is only a small part of the struggle to overthrow the ruling class and transform the society into one of cooperation providing justice, liberty, security and abundance. Laurie Penny works at her liberal msm publications to undo what remains of the press' function as historical record, a function still performed by an older generation (Monbiot, Younge for example) but which is not being replaced by youth. She is one of many young pundits working under the direction of savvy planners to transform these publications into stages for the entertaining self-display of personalities like blogs and facebook which distill the pleasures of Friends and Sienfeld, settings for the striking of rhetorical postures justified, if at all, by the shortest possible term efficiency (wouldn't it be more fun and entertaining and better for our brands if we just salute 'Violence' instead of trying to explain a complex thing like the difference between repressive and liberatory action? Doesn't my column seem edgier if I play up the proximity of tough boys and exaggerate their menace rather than be boringly accurate and decline to exploit all that delicious energy of racism available for use with such subtlety one has not the least obligation to avow it?) and utterly indifferent to accuracy, depth, coherence and all the criteria by which once judged both reportage and opinion journalism.
Laurie Penny has no conception of how doggedly traditional and hierarchical her milieu is, an environment in which the capitalist mass media has all the power to shape and prioritize, because she is an historical ignoramus. But her publishers understand this, and she is chosen for her suitability to their plans. What she thinks she is doing or wants to do could not be less relevant to the effects of her product.
She is on the one hand an exemplar, the youth colmumnist. She has a position then comparable to the one which began Naomi Klein's career in Toronto. The comparison is instructive. While reporting on youth and campus based politics for the Globe and Mail, Klein wrote No Logo which chronicled an evolution in student activism in Canada and the US mainly from the identity politics skewed toward issues of recognition and representation to altermondialist challenges to the power of expanding private tyrannies that are the multinationals. This turned out in fact to be a tale of an internationalisation and a convergence of student and academia-dominated cultural politics in the imperial core with international struggles against exploitation and expropriation by the same blocks of capital that were issuing that spectacle which so absorbed the attention of the dissident elites working in culture industries. Klein discovered and analysed patterns of organisation, strategy and tactics and how they reflected the developing political analyses and convictions of altermondialist militants.
As the voice and observer of dissident youth and now youth in revolt, Penny is like a degraded facsimile of Klein, borrowing a lot and mixing it with bits of intellectual roach poison, fan gushings for cocaculture shit, throwback gender discourses, blithely self-satisfied white solipsism, etc.. And in place of Klein's somewhat subtle and empirically scrupulous representation of altermondialist activism, Penny is engaged in embarassing exaggerations for self-dramatization and childishly fetishises the absence of an infrastructure binding the tweeted flashmobs into a militant movement and of collectively legitimized authorities which allow her to seize for herself a position of prominence and insert herself between the militants she is observing and the msm audience. In part she is celebrating as a revolutionary feature an absence of social relations around human nodes which is only an artifact of the recentness of this coordination of people. But to display this pedestal-perched improvisation in the Guardian as a value distinguishing "youth" who don't read newspapers (she doesn't seem to understand this is due to brain damage from new media - the same brain damage, or mind damage at least, which accounts for her own inability to grasp the difference between the celebrity of the protests and their success) from an old left of vermin whom the most advanced weapons devised by science for capitalists have yet to eradicate, is work in the service of an ever intensifying liberal media effort to obstruct and prevent radicalisation of imperial core populations as the transformation to neo-feudal plutocracy accelerates. The bourgeoisie really does worry about a resurgent revolutionary communist humanity; they believe, with reason, that the success of any vast social movement will require the participation of strata of political, culture and telecom indusry professionals. They consequently zealously promote perky pundits who will stir hatred in youth for the greedy fat pampered "baby boomers" with their nearly paid off mortgages, their pensions and winter heat subsidies and christmas turkeys and yearly holidays in Ibiza, all things too luxurious for sinful humanity. There's not enough suffering in the world! To divert the fury of downwardly mobile populations the liberal msms will sow divisions of every kind but especially seek to vilify and defame the possessors of the fruits of popular victories and the knowledge of struggle founded in success. To this end they will promote pundits who see in the successful struggles and their protagonists and participants rivals rather than models, competitors rather than comrades. They will promote new "feminist critics of feminism" to denounce feminism as encouraging women to lead a "race to the bottom" with men leading to everyone's ruin. They will promote the prophets of post-racial society who declare the entire working class, apart from white men, enemies and dividers of the working class and betrayers of their own struggle whose victories are defeats in disguise. And they will naturally love pundits who explain it was through the wicked sacrificng of their own babies to the devil that those fat greedy vibrator addict "baby-boomers" got their lazy retirement and their heated rooms in winter, their dvds and their days of rest, their malt on the weekends and their comfy chairs, and all the vile self-indulgences their shallow depraved natures covet. If instead of organizing they had networked and tweeted, they wouldn't be so soft and warm today, so secure and sure of their health care and their morphine to ease their way out of life, such fat parasites!