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The Joke Mark Steel Won’t Tell


Reasons To Be Cheerful by Mark Steel


After finishing this excellent book you cannot but wonder what Mark Steel feels about the current state of the SWP. He, as many before him in the International Socialists, the SWP and the supporters of the theory of State Capitalism internationally, have rightly defended the party and its traditions with a special brand of humour. His gutsy defence of working class militancy runs alongside the absurdities it throws up – like trying to hide striking steel workers from his Mum or being accosted by Arthur Scargill furiously talking about himself in the third person or Mark exposing his local fascists’ attempt to run a lucky dip stall. Given the recent history of the International Socialist Tendency it would not look out of place in one of his routines…


Like most of us I’ve been reading a lot of internal documents recently – or I’ve been trying to… I can’t keep up! You know the signs, you’re in the pub after a meeting and you always seem to be overhearing people who say things like, “Yes yes, but you wouldn’t say that if you had read Thornton Ratchet’s reply to Fuzduck at the Hobart conference in ’98”… Yeah, and those are just the cheerful ones.


Most are like me – faced with yet another close typed reply to a rejoinder to another reply you automatically feel like saying “No thanks mate, I’m trying to give them up.” But for some reason you don’t do you? You don’t want to be negative do you? So you put on the little smile, you look at it and say “I don’t know if I can read this type any more – it must be my eyes!” Which always seems to elicit the same cheerful response doesn’t it: “Well, maybe you need glasses.” Which, come to mention it would explain the high incidence of spectacle wearing in some SWP branches. Or maybe it’s because after reading so much Alex Callinicos you finally begin to look like him.


…No no, it’s OK, we can say things like that in our party because Alex as we all know has a very highly developed sense of humour. Who could forget that fake perspectives document he emailed on April 1st to the States to prove to Ian Birchall that Americans don’t have a sense of irony eh?


“Comrades should aim to select only the best six members to implement this new anti-globalisation-ecological perspective.” “Only the best six members” indeed. Ahhh you can’t beat Alex can you eh? What a card!


You can just imagine what it would have been like if they hadn’t got that second email before September 11th telling them it was all a joke. You can see it can’t you, instead of hundreds of IS members protesting the war they would have held their very own little counter-demonstration handing out leaflets showing where to find the nearest GM crop to sit on.


Yeah great, not only The Smallest Mass Party In The World but also the greenest!


Naw but seriously folks, you don’t want to do things like that too often. Why? Cos it gets taken over very swiftly by those who wished they’d thought of it first. You know who I mean – yes, the Work Place Bore, the one who hasn’t actually got a sense of humour at all, but seems to spend the entire time copying and showing everybody the latest little limerick or badly drawn cartoon.


I mean, I don’t know how many fax machines Chris Bambery has burnt out or how many reams of paper he’s gone through or how many people he caused to block thteir email. But once he saw Alex’s funny perspective he couldn’t stop could he? Hours of fun he had imitating Alex and winding people up across three continents.


But I was amazed how swiftly Alex took back control once he had discovered how busy Chris had been. That recorded message he put on the international department’s ansaphone was wicked.


“You have reached the International Department of the Socialist Workers Party.

Please press one to connect to all other Departments.

To order the latest perspectives document via UPS press two.

If you are or have been a member of the Communist Party, a Maoist or a social democrat or all three and wish to be recognised as a member of the International Socialist Tendency please press three.

To reconnect to the Fourth International please press four.

Those wishing to speak to a member of Militant or Jimmy McGovern please press zero.”


Now that I know he did do. It was of course a vicious rumour that he was responsible for jamming all the phones to the Industrial Department with Celine Dion. That of course was my good self.


Proved my point didn’t it? I mean politics is not about some stupid bint showing off how good they are at belting it out, but where we are actually going innit?


And on that thought I’ll leave you. My name’s Mark Steel, thank you and good night.