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Spiked-on-Line and Stephen Potter: The Praxis of Lifemanship.

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Spiked-on-Line’s Manual.

“Soros does not believe in the legitimacy of borders nor in the authority of national electorates. Consequently he feels entitled to influence and if possible direct the political destiny of societies all over the world. “

The Telegraph  Living Marxism (LM).

They claim that the headline of the Telegraph piece is an anti-Semitic trope: it says Soros is ‘backing secret plot to thwart Brexit.’ That’s anti-Semitic? That would be a more convincing argument if the Telegraph and others hadn’t also regularly written about other plots – of which there are many! – to overthrow the democratic vote for Brexit, including those that do not involve donations from billionaires who happen to be Jewish.

Brendan O’Neill. Spiked on Line.

Nick Timothy liked the story so much he re-tweeted it.



The role of Spiked-on-Line in the hate campaign against Soros has received attention on the left for the simple reason that this group, with origins on the far-left, is now popping up all over the right wing (not to say far-right)  British press.

They are above all celebrated as “contrarians”.

Brendan O’Neill in particular.

Having left behind Marxism, Socialism and indeed any form of the left, the crew have found a new ‘look me up to’ in the works of Stephen Potter.

Potter (whose books, it goes without saying are on all serious leftists’ shelves) is best known for this,

It was the first of his series of books purporting to teach ploys for manipulating one’s associates, making them feel inferior and thus gaining the status of being one-up on them. From this book, the term “Gamesmanship” entered the English language. Potter said that he was introduced to the technique by C. E. M. Joad during a game of tennis in which Joad and Potter were struggling against two fit young students. Joad politely requested the students to state clearly whether a ball had landed in or out (when in truth it was so obviously out that they had not thought it necessary to say so). This nonplussed the students, who wondered if their sportsmanship was in question; they became so edgy that they lost the match.

But that is not the end of the method.

Sport is only one case of always being “one up” on your opponents.

The Master defined the objective, “How to be one up – how to make the other man feel that something has gone wrong, however slightly.” Or, if you “are not one up, you are one down”.

Rosie Bell once outlined a key aspect of  the Potter praxis:

In his series Lifemanship (1950)  Stephen Potter invented a reviewer called Hope-Tipping who, in order to make a splash, would take a writer to task for not doing something he was famous for,  e.g. accuse D H Lawrence of showing  a neglect of “the consciousness of sexual relationship, the male and female element in life”.   So Hope-Tipping would be severely disappointed with Irving Welsh’s lack of interest in Edinburgh’s low life and he would castigate Dick Francis for not drawing on his knowledge of horses and horse-racing

The advice for what Potter called “Newstatesmaning”, that is reviewing, is at the centre of Spiked on Line’s approach. Sitting down with a dog-eared copy of the book and its sequel, One-Upmanship: Being Some Account of the Activities and Teachings of the Lifemanship Correspondence College of One-Upness and Games Lifemastery (1952) the team can write any number of articles.

The New Statesman writer Jonn Elledge recently found a few, or rescued them from the waste bin,

The campaign against the so-called “Black Death” has exposed the liberals’ true agenda.

The misogyny of the Suffragettes.

The witch-hunting of Jack the Ripper

There is are tired and trusted techniques. A master stroke is “Yes, but not in the South”, which “with slight adjustments, will do for any argument about any place, if not about any person and render any of your opponents’ assertions suspect.

There has been much justified celebration this week of that historic enfranchisement of around 8.4million mainly middle-class women. Far less attention has been paid to the other victory for democracy in the 1918 Act – the granting of the vote to virtually all males aged over 21, which enfranchised some 5.6million working-class men for the first time.

That side of the Act does not fit the fashionable script, which depicts the democratic victory of February 1918 as a triumph for modern feminism.

Mick Hume Spiked on Line 7th of February 2018

Or to imply that you are somehow in the highest realm of intellectual debate, but that you are also in touch with the common taste – lowbrowmanship.

2018 heralds the 80th anniversary of the longest running comic book in history – the Beano. For generations, working-class kids have grown up with the characters in the Beano. And supreme among them is the eternally naughty 10-year-old, Dennis the Menace, who first appeared on 12 March 1951.

Denis Hayes. Spiked on Line.  4th of January 2018.

Unfortunately if we thought that the professional contrarians were a joke they have their admirers, from Sky News, to here:





Review: Strange Fruit Indeed.

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Strange Fruit. Why Both Sides are Wrong in the Race Debate. Kenan Malik Oneworld 2008.


Kenan Malik has a mixed reputation. He is best known for his criticisms of race ‘realism’ (or bluntly – racism), conventional multiculturalism, and his defence of the scientific traditions of the Enlightenment against cultural relativism. Whatever their stand on this, to some on the left he may as well have scarlet letters branded on his breast reading Living Marxism. To others however, who have long developed a parallel critical stand on these issues, his writings are stimulating and always worth reading. Though, sometimes, he can seriously irritate.


Proving he has not lost the capacity to annoy, Strange Fruit begins with a contestable claim. That, “racial talk today is as likely to come out of the mouths of liberal antiracists as of reactionary racial scientists. The affirmation of difference, which once was at the heart of racial science, has become a key plank of the anti-racist outlook.”(P 5) While ‘difference’ remains a popular principle amongst a certain kind of leftist (public employees and academics), and the idea that people should replace fear of the Other with Respect, is still a liberal hobby-horse, it seems that its high-water mark has passed. Equality and rationality are coming back into fashion. Malik’s book therefore raises reservations, above all on the claim that “Antiracism has become an irrational, anti-scientific philosophy”. (P 6) A growing number of anti-racists are, as some have long been, opposed to precisely the relativist and romantic ideas of race and culture that Malik so forcefully attacks. 


The core of Strange Fruit is its discussion of the role of genetics of race-thinking. Classic old style racism has continued in the belief that our genes show profound differences in humans, and there are still psuedo-scientific studies claiming differences of intelligence. He demolishes these (largely socio-biological) theories  by a clear overview of the Human Genome project, and other elements such as discoveries about the distribution (mixed everywhere) of blood groups. Clearly race is not a scientific category in any real sense, it is a cultural one. Unfortunately as Malik demonstrates for many (the givers of courses in ‘diversity’ are a notorious case) identity is seen as a “genetic heritage, inextricably linking race, culture and belonging.”(P 63) The world is divided into distinct blocks of different human kinds, Diversity against Unity.


Where does this come from? Why pit these against each other? One source is a would-be radical assault on ‘rationality’ and ‘Euro-centeredness’. The notion that science and rationality are bureaucratic monsters (Foucault’s power-making-truth machine) has played a part. That there is something particularly obnoxious in European civilisation that smothers other societies.  That, in particular, the Enlightenment annihilated the cultural worth of non-Europeans. That it denied any merit to Non-European thought, making its science the sole criterion of knowledge.  That it was racist. Even (to the kind of theorist who finds even Cloud Cuckoo Land a bit too mundane) that it is ultimately linked to the Holocaust.


Malik tackles the assertion that the Enlightenment is to blame for racialism. Obviously real race-ideology derives from its opponents: the Counter-Enlightenment (Gobineau to cite but one). He points out that its universalist principles offered ‘civilisation’ even to those from cultures which were at present deemed (from their 18thcentury vantage point) as primitive or barbarian. Equal worth and capacity were the essence of the human condition, only circumstances marred them. He divides the Enlightenment (following Jonathan Israel), rather schematically into radicals and conservatives “whether reason reigned supreme in human affairs, as the radicals insisted, or whether reason had to be limited by faith and tradition, the mainstream view.” (P 88) Malik puts Kant in the latter category, even though the author of What is Enlightenment? answered his own question as: it meant above all the use of your own reason with no deference to authority. Diderot, hard to classify, has a cautious strain but was very anti-colonialist. And so it goes..


His claim that “toleration, personal freedom, democracy, racial equality, sexual emancipation and the universal right to knowledge” comes from the Radical Enlightenment. (P 89) equally needs some needs qualifications. These would bring him down from the world of ideas to that of politics, supremely those of the French Revolution. There he would have been able to explore the beginnings of social institutions that put these into practice, the barriers faced by the radicals, their heroism and their shameful defeat. He would consider the brilliant Olympe de Gouges, the feminist pioneer, guillotined for her pains, the paradoxes of the anti-Slavery founder of the Société des Amis des Noirs, Abbé Grégoire (Anti-racist but anti-regional French languages), and the philosophe turned politician, Condorcet.  This might have shaped the direction of Strange Fruit away from the ideological heavens, and hells,  to the politics which play the decisive role in the present power of multiculturalism (from a state desire to incorporate ethnic groups to the interests of self-appointed ‘community leaders’). Not to mention the occasions when politicians play the ‘race card’.


There is a great deal of interest in Malik’s outline of how UNESCO’s attempt to confront racism after the Second World War, and cultural anthropologists wish to reject assumptions of Western superiority ended up approaching a relativism so pure it cannot even stand for basic scientific rationality. Enter ‘science’ of every kind of magic and alternative gibberish. Authenticity (a modern invention) leads to worshiping one’s (race-cultural) roots. The volkish notion of culture at its heart lent support for the notorious case of human remains, ‘Kennewick Man’ in the US. Discovered in Washington State these ancient bones, of enormous antiquity,  appear to be of no known human group, but were claimed by the local Native Americans as their own and tried to prevent scientific research on their origin.  In this case even the dead are instructed that they had “to bear a particular culture.”(P 177)


Another jump and we find Mailk baldly claiming that that the New Left adopted similar ideas, dropping the working class for new agencies in splintered cultural identities, each fighting its own oppressions. This may be true for some of the wilder forms of the US left, and remains a truism amongst the dying embers of post-modernism and such sects as the British Socialist Action (Ken Livingstone’s bag-people). But Malik would here again have benefited from having a wider political background than British groupuscules: these opinions are, and have always been, ultra-minority amongst most of the European left which has always tried to unite class movements and those of the oppressed (objectively oppressed that is, not by their ‘identity’ being thwarted). Cultural assertions have an importance nevertheless. Languages, like species, should be allowed to flourish and die without being suppressed or starved of oxygen. There is no contradiction between supporting, say, regional languages, which bear a culture that, to cite but literature and poetry which is unique, and standing for universal rights (equality before the law). The universalistic argument was made effectively long ago (by Saint Augustine in On Christian Doctrine) that while some judgements and tastes are properly relative (dress, family arrangements) some maxims are without exception. Augustine sharply cited the key test of the exceptions’ rule, “Treat others as you would be treated yourself.” Secularism which Malik unfortunately does not discuss, could be said to be an extended working out of this basic principle. Which itself deserves discussing within the broader context of a Marxist approach to ‘identity’ (what of nationality by the way? Malik barely mentions this) that links it to class and political forms, hey, let’s just call them states.


Malik only touches on Marxism in the vaguest terms, referring to its stand on human liberation, opposition to class exploitation, and positive attitude towards reason. But he does call for a return to the fight  for, ”humanism and reason.”(P 288)



Many of us have never abandoned it.




Written by Andrew Coates

December 4, 2008 at 1:34 pm