Saturday, April 28, 2007

A Prisoner of the Past*

Couple of good posts from Alan J. over at his Mailstrom blog:

  • Anton Pancakes
  • O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us
  • With the 'Anton Pancakes' post, it looks like Alan's taken on the task of scouring the Dead Socialist Watch list over at Virtual Stoa, as he follows up his post on Dietzgen with a piece on Anton Pannekoek, the Dutch astronomer and Council Communist. (Alan, I'm looking forward to your 5000 word essay on Beatrice Webb on Monday.)

    I would disagree with Alan on one point: I think there is a case to be made that Pannekoek as a theorist has an greater influence today that he had during the latter part of his life, and an influence that far outstrips that of the SPGB.

    AK Press republished his Workers' Councils a few years back, and there is no doubt that the celebrity endorsement from Chomsky - who in interviews I've read, always maintained that as a young man he was always more sympathetic to the council communism of Pannekoek and Mattick, rather than the various hues of Leninism - has gone some way in Pannekoek finding a new audience.

    As Alan mentions, a lot of anarchists have a soft spot for Pannekoek. If I was being a cheeky bastard, it's a case of hyper-activists chasing after a theory, but I'm not a cheeky bastard.

    It was always funny, though, that at various festivals, demos and bookfairs etc etc when you'd get the familiar sneer from the youthful badged-up anarcho-surbanite for admitting to being an SPGBer (using the line: "honest mate, they aren't my Socialist Standards. I'm carrying them for a bet." never used to work for me), they'd always have the Pannekoek pamphlet published by Collective Action Notes, with his articles reprinted from The Western Socialist, the old WSPUS journal, on their literature table.

    Mention of the Western Socialist reminds me of this excerpt from an anniversary issue of the journal from 1966 which, when writing of socialist activity in Boston in the 30s and 40s, makes mention of Pannekoek:

    "And the Sunday night forums at the old headquarters at 12 Hayward Place! One of the most memorable of these forums was the occasion of the visit to Boston by the late Dutch astronomer and Marxist, Anton Pannekoek (author of Marxism and Darwinism and Anthropogenesis). Pannekoek had come to accept an honorary degree from Harvard University for his work in astrophysics. Yet instead of hobnobbing with the intellectuals of Harvard, he chase to deliver a lecture at the W.S.P. headquarters to a working class audience seeking the truth about society from a scientist and philosopher. Pannekoek said that he was more at home with workers than he was with the professors." (From From The Western Socialist Issue 4, 1966)

    I don't really have to write too much in connection with the second piece, 'O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us', from Alan's blog . . .except perhaps to ask: what the hell did he have in his cocoa when coming up with the title of the post?

    Alan's found some old posts on the google discussion list alt.politics.socialism.trotsky, where the well known science fiction writer, Ken MacLeod, does a bang up job defending the history and politics of the SPGB from the usual misunderstandings, misrepresentations and miscreants.

    Regular readers of the blog will know that Ken MacLeod has a history of sorts with the SPGB. Not in a 'Literature Secretary of Enfield and Haringey Branch 1986-1988' kind of way, but more as someone who has in times past spoken at our Summer School, written a guest article in the Socialist Standard, and has also written warmly of the Party and its members in one of his novels, The Stone Canal, which is, erm, novel.

    My only grumble is that it sticks in the craw when a non-member puts in a better performance of defending the politics of the Party than I ever could. I think I'll stick to blogging about music, footie and Sarah Silverman . . .but I do want that badge, though.

    *Listening to Prefab Sprout.

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