SWP: Eton by green politics
The Socialist Workers’ Party’s (SWP) weekly newspaper, the Socialist Worker, has never been known for its flashes of wit or levity. In keeping with the SWP’s politics, its journalism tends to be on the earnest and dour side. This week, however, that changed. For just about the first time in its 46-year history, the Socialist Worker decided to break with tradition and crack a joke in its ‘Troublemaker’ column.
Unfortunately, the occasion for SWP mirth was the death of 17-year-old Horatio Chapple, a pupil at Eton public school, who was mauled to death by a polar bear in 2011 while on an adventure holiday. Following the opening of an inquest into his death on Monday, the Socialist Worker went for satire: ‘Eton by bear? The inquest begins.’ The piece concluded with the lines: ‘”Troublemaker” has long supported campaigning for the environment. Now we have another reason to save the polar bears.’
The article has been described as ‘incredibly tasteless’ and there have been calls for the Socialist Worker to apologise. The black-hearted quip is redolent of the sort of infantile jokes that could be found in anarchist rag Class War in the late Eighties, which would contain photos of graveyards accompanied by the strapline ‘we’ve found new homes for the rich’. Condemning individuals for their parents’ backgrounds, rather than their politics, has always been a dumb and deterministic approach to political struggle. As other commentators have correctly pointed out, the SWP has not been immune to recruiting Etonians in the past. And why should that be a problem? Writer and officer with the Army Reserve, Adrian Weale, whose son was in the same year as Chapple at Eton, was correct when he said: ‘There are more than a few ex-public schoolboys and girls in the ranks of the SWP and I doubt that many of them would think that the killing of one of them or their siblings by a sick animal had anything much to do with their supposed class war.’
However, it’s fairer to say that the column was actually informed by mainstream environmentalism rather than revolutionary socialism. Championing dumb animals over human beings has always been the calling card of deep greens and animal-rights loons. Far from the SWP engaging in revolutionary posturing like a bunch of undergraduate twats, it is really appealing to dogs-on-strings crusties who never stop bawling their eyes out over cuddly animals. Unsurprisingly, an emotional identification with animals and nature often goes hand-in-hand with misanthropic attitudes towards human beings. It seems the SWP has opportunistically taken a turn away from humanistic Marxism and towards humanity-hating green politics. After all, hating humanity is pretty popular right now, from philosopher John Gray popping up on Radio 4 to call human beings parasites and a plague, to environmentalist writer Paul Kingsnorth welcoming natural disasters as a means to create a ‘saner planet’.
The real black-hearted joke here is that, far from such ideas being condemned and ridiculed, they are as mainstream as wind turbines and organic produce. No wonder the gag writer at the Socialist Worker thought the SWP was in good company.
Neil Davenport is a writer and teacher based in London.