Saturday, 15 November 2008

Review – What’s Going On? By Mark Steel (2008)

I wrote this review quite a while back, but given that Mark Steel was a speaker at the sunday rally at Socialism 2008 and some of the points he raised were also raised in this book it think it is apt to publish it now.

Mark Steel’s latest book is a tale of his very own personnel mid-life crisis. As his personal life breaks down seeing him sleeping on the couch at home, he also goes through a political divorce with the organisation he’s belonged to since he was a teenager, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP).
But both these personal episodes illustrate the bigger issue that Steel discusses throughout the book, the question of how we can take the anger that exists at the capitalist system and do something about it.
On of the main things Steel disputes throughout the book is the notion that the working class no longer exists. Although the large factories of traditional industrial working class are slowly being transferred abroad, Steel notes how layers such as civil servants and teachers now form parts of the working class. More importantly he notes how the supermarkets and other large retail stores have in effect become the factories of the 21st century with customers being the object the workforce there are processing – Steel picks out a good comparison of how in Subway customers order their sandwiches in a manner that is effectively a conveyer belt system.
Steel notes how events such as the movement against the Iraq war have drawn large numbers of people into opposition to the government , yet the potential for building a new party to represent workers has been squandered on several occasions, particularly by the leadership of the SWP.
Steel focuses on the ruins of Respect, noting how the SWP leadership were willing to overlook various factors ie. George Galloway’s lack of accountability to Respect etc. (of which the Socialist Party has been critical of Respect), but for George Galloway to issues a document mildly criticising John Rees, the National Secretary of Respect (and SWP Central Committee member) – this was a step too far.
The rest is history as they say. Steel gives plenty of examples of the control-freakery of the SWP leadership in the downfall of Respect. But given he also cites examples prior to this, including the inflation of membership numbers, the reader wonders why it took him so long to break politically from such people.
The book however, is well worth the read. Steel writes in a manner that is easy to understand and in a very humourous manner (as is to be expected being a comedian), but he also helps even those very politically aware understand things in new and insightful ways at the same time.

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