"Solidarity, comrades, is what we are about. It runs through our veins. It is what makes us different to the bosses’ class and the elite who rule us and try to dominate us." Thus spake Len McCluskey, assistant general secretary of the Unite union, at a recent union meeting, or at least the Guardian reporter doing a profile of him claimed he did. I’m not deeply interested in Mr McCluskey as such, although I think its worth pointing out in passing that his comment isn’t entirely logical given that, if you are a socialist, you presumably have to believe that the capitalists show a certain amount of solidarity in keeping the workers down. However, it does rank with "Hey, Kiera, why don’t we slip into something more comfortable" and "Hello, Wembley! Do you wanna rock?" as statements I can confidently predict I will never make, sober at any rate. Nice to see the re-appearance of the "boss class" though, an expression which hasn’t had much of a public outing since the Seventies.
I think part of the reason I never cut it as a left wing firebrand is that I never could quite buy into belief systems with holes in them, and all left wing ideologies have holes in them. So do all right wing ideologies for that matter, which I suppose is why I am no more likely to end up addressing a fringe meeting at the Tory conference than hanging out with the comrades of the SWP in some flea ridden East End pub. You read or hear about all these Utopian visions, and think or say – "Well, you’re a bit vague about how this is going to work economically", or "Well, with no prisons, what will you do with all the criminals?", or "So, as a pacifist, what do you do when someone invades?" You don’t usually get a straight answer. Instead, all those practical holes get filled in with a tapestry of colourful rhetoric, either because the people concerned don’t know what the answer to all these practical problems is or because they do but know it will be unpalatable, as with Soviet-style Communism when the main answer to a lot of practical problems was, "We will shoot them." George Orwell may have had this sort of thing in mind when he said that, "Political language – and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists – is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."
I don’t think mere scepticism is the only reason for this, though. There are people who are capable of accepting an ideology when they are sceptical about aspects of it, because it satisfies them on some deeper emotional level. In being left wing, it helps if you either feel some kind of positive emotion towards whatever socially oppressed group you are fighting for – the good old fashioned working class, minority groups like black people or gays or the poor of the Third World – hate their oppressors, or both. I’ve never managed the positive bit at all and the distaste for the oppressor has never been strong enough to make me do much about it. No doubt it’s different if you are or believe yourself to be a member of those oppressed groups, but I’m not working class, black or gay, and whilst I appreciate they may all have their problems, I never felt under an obligation to go out and solve them. As for the oppressors, whilst the cure for admiring financiers, businessmen and authority figures generally is to meet a few of them so you can grasp that in general, they aren’t very nice people, this perception has not been enough to make me want to overthrow them. I suspect that when you get rid of one rotter, you tend to create job opportunities for other rotters. Look at the recent history of Russia or of Germany.
I’ve never regarded myself as a great lover of humanity either, although some radicals have been big on this – like the Jacobins in the French Revolution. On this front, I would like to draw everyone’s attention to some words of the late Ted Bundy. Bundy was a rapist and serial killer of perhaps 20-30 women in the US in the 1970s. He met his Maker via the Florida state electric chair in 1989, and on that occasion one truly doesn’t envy God the task. Before finally being executed, Bundy spent about ten years in jail spinning yarns to assorted biographers, and once, when asked why he always chose to live in university districts, he replied that "People are great anyway", but that students were particularly great as they were "Healthy people. Exciting people." He avoided adding "and they taste great with fava beans and a nice Chianti. Sssss!" but in terms of making himself sound weird and creepy he might as well have, and this should give pause for thought to anyone tempted to proclaim their love of people generally. What kind of oddball truly loves humanity in that undifferentiated way? Particular people, yes, but everybody, including Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein and, indeed, Ted Bundy? Unless your surname is "Christ", you like sandals and raising the dead and you are a dab hand with a tenon saw, it’s frankly unbelievable.
Perhaps, then, I fall into the same category as the first British Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, who proclaimed that he was "No saint, no Spartan, no reformer." Whether he also added, "and no sort of person to avoid sitting around with my cronies over vats of claret as we work out how to half-inch even more money and appoint all our relatives to civil service posts", which is what Walpole seems to have spent most of his time doing, is sadly unrecorded. However, my failure at being left wing (or right wing) does probably doom me to a lifetime of not being even vaguely politically significant, unlike Walpole. My ambitions will have to be more limited, and in this context I have always liked a remark of the 18th century French writer and politician Abbe Sieyes, who lived through several violent changes of government. At one point, someone is supposed to have asked him what he did during the Terror. "I lived", he replied.