For many years I published a blog called socialist unity. It was known to be a bit of a bear pit, because comments made “below the line” were often robustly cantankerous. This led to repeated, and tedious, quips about the site being socialist disunity. How we laughed.
The name was not deliberately chosen, but grew out of events. Back in 2003, a loose group called the Socialist Unity Network had emerged out of the closing of the Socialist Alliance, which had itself been an electorally focused attempt to build cooperation between socialists in England and Wales, in the context of Tony Blair’s leadership of the Labour Party. The details are all a bit obscure, but briefly SUN, as it was known, ran a lively website, which was pleasingly heterodox, though tilted towards rather ultra-left politics. The website was administered by Jim Jepps, but I think it was a bit of an unfair burden on him, and we later moved to a blog format, as it allowed individuals to self-publish.
As I was the most regular and prolific contributor, it evolved to being seen as my personal blog, and other individuals moved onto other projects. It is also worth remarking that the early 2000s were a very different landscape for self publishing, as political blogging was largely done by amateurs, who networked and referenced each others work, and particularly in the sub-culture of the UK left, this represented a fundamental challenge to the sects who mimicked a toy town version of Leninism, and sought to foster an homogeneous group think around a set of political positions, and a strictly centralised dissemination of ideas through print publications.
One of the reasons that Socialist Unity became so fractious is because it brought together in conversation people who had litterally been trained to not engage with each other. Secondly, it forced people to defend assumptions that they had hitherto taken for granted. The biggest impact was challenging the culture of hypocracy over sexism, with left groups that pretended to be ultra-feminist also turning a blind eye to sexual harrasment, and worse.
It was through Socialist Unity that I broke the story of “Comrade Delta” ( a name I made up when redacting a transcript passed to me of an SWP conference that had endorsed what was effectively a cover up of rape allegations). I also started to raise concerns, about ten years ago, of the growing acceptance of anti-Semitism on the left. In 2013 I exposed the far-right leanings of Anne-Marie Waters, who at that time was in the Labour Party, and was a front runner to be selected as parliamentary candidate for Brighton Pavilion. Waters is now an acknowledged spokesperson for the far right, and is leader of the For Britain Party. However, when I originally called her out, I was denounced and she was vehemently defended by, for example, Nick Cohen. This led to rather unpleasant articles about me in the Sun and Mail, instigated according to the Sun journalist I spoke to, by Grant Shapps, then chair of the Conservative Party. Due to an article in Socialist Unity I also had the distinction of being libelled in the last ever Scottish edition of the News of the World!
The greatest strength of Socialist Unity was the community of often very well informed individuals who commented, often from behind pseudonyms. I particularly recall a long debate with Michael Rosen about whether there is a distinct English culture, for example. There were some characters, such as George Hallam, who gave the impression of being an older gentleman, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Red Army that he was prepared to share even when it was not remotely relevant, and was an unlikely advocate of the gold standard and Austrian economics. Jimmie Haddow used to post long screeds of indigestible Marxobabble that he had cut and pasted from the Socialist Party website, and boasted of Stakhanovite levels of commitment in selling his socialist newspaper. Special acknowledgement must go to Tony Collins, who hosted the site and helped enormously with techie stuff; and Evan Pritchard, who finally forgave me for losing his copy of Red Star over China. I should also mention John Wight who contributed to the blog for some years, and who wrote quite an interesting book about his experience as an extra in Hollywood.
Eventually, I just drifted away from blogging, because I started finding it a bit of a chore, rather than a pleasure, and I felt that Socialist Unity had outlived its usefulness.