In the last week, I’ve been reading Corbynism: A Critical Approach by Frederick Harry Pitts and Matt Bolton. It’s a thought provoking critique of the Labour leadership and the movement which has emerged around it. One which I’m reading because I wanted to be forced to think about things I believe, which the shrill condemnation of right wing media pundits is unable to provoke. It’s done that and I’m glad I read the book for that reason. But the tone of it has frustrated me and I think it is symptomatic of a tendency for critique to be performed in an antagonistic way: the identification of error and the unveiling of the deeper reality which those errors conceal.
There’s a machismo latent within performance of this sort that can be avoided but often isn’t. In this case, it collapses questions of strategy and morality into ontology. What should we do? What would be right to do? The authors are Labour activists who presumably share concerns with Corbynism, even if there are vast differences about goals and methods. But even though strategy is repeatedly invoked, ends are rarely discussed because the performance of critique constantly brings the discussion back to the deeper reality of capitalism which the authors (plausibly) say that Corbynism fails to grasp.
I’m not sure how clearly I’m expressing this but what I’m trying to suggest is that the performance of critique too often precludes dialogue about what we should do. Its apparent worldliness is belied by a style of engagement which constantly slices into abstraction, away from the world. It frustrates me even as I feel I have no alternative but to read it because there are things found in texts like this which I can’t find anywhere else.