The contributions made by Benjamin, Leftwing Criminologist and Organised Rage to the latest Carnival of Socialism touch upon the key questions why the left, and particularly the revolutionary left, blog and should blog.
For me at least, I don't think it's possible to comment on this without a bit of self-reflection. When I started this blog I initially thought it would be somewhere to let steam off about my PhD, sociology and other academic stuff. But almost immediately I began commenting on political stuff. So AVPS is both a sociology blog and a far left blog, it fulfills a dual purpose. Benjamin says he sees his blogging as a means of developing himself as a revolutionary socialist. Not only is the discipline of regularly writing and commenting on current affairs a useful habit for any socialist to adopt, it can contribute toward developing the critically minded activists our class needs. Hacks who allow their central committee to do their thinking for them might be fine and dandy for a paper sale, but they're not much use for anything else. I would like to think my blogging is of this developmental character. I've forced myself to write about complex issues and things I don't know much about. I hope I've managed to avoid the haughty tones of the theoretician/guru who must be seen to be all-knowing. I also try to develop my own knowledge, and hopefully introduce new ideas to the AVPS audience, by looking at research coming out of the social sciences and think tanks. If Marxism has nothing to fear from the reality it seeks to explain, there's no reason why we should fight shy of the latest developments in social and political theory/research outside of the revolutionary left and the labour movement.
Then there is the contradiction between the collective political traditions of the left and the individual position and agency of the solitary blogger. Mick talks through some of the problems well and I won't repeat them. But I would suggest the archetypal left blogger isn't as solitary as appearances suggest. This blog, like all the other blogs on the AVPS counter-hegemonic blogroll, are part of a vibrant, interconnected network of activists, leftists and militants. Far from existing in isolation we link to and comment on each other's efforts. We polemicise and engage in blog wars (thankfully, not too frequently!). We have our cliques of friends and allies and define ourselves in terms of what we see as the opposition, be that rival left blogs or the commentariat to our right. In short we are all part of a certain inchoate location, whether we like it or not. But more about this in a moment.
Where the contradiction between the individual and collective can rear its head is one independent socialists do not have to face: the relationship between the blogger and the party they are a member of. This might help explain why so comparatively few bloggers are paid up members of revolutionary left groups. I don't believe it's because Leninist groupings are genetically predisposed to churning out mindless activists. Instead it is about the culture of activism they engender among socialists. Unlike say, for example, the Greens or Labour, where party activity may just be one type of activism among several different kinds, for us the party is the centre of our activity. The purpose of the party is to organise a collectivity of activists in pursuit of its objectives, which all Leninist groups manage to do to greater or lesser extents. This impulse of directing everything through the party applies to all political activities, including those that are internet based. I've been asked on more than one occasion why I don't write more for party publications instead of blogging, and there's no easy answer to this question. Beyond, in my opinion, the unsuitability of much of this blog's material for The Socialist and Socialism Today, both of which address themselves to very different audiences than the small clutch of people who regularly read this blog.
Because of this, blogging should not be seen as a substitute for writing for party publications. Instead, it can complement them. For example, on the whole, I think Lenin's Tomb does a good job promoting the politics of the SWP. Likewise, I think the various pieces I've written about Socialist Party politics, be they branch discussions, regional and national gatherings, public meetings, activist life and the work of my branch in Stoke reflects well on the party as a whole. I hope it works to undermine a few myths that have accumulated around Militant, the SP and the CWI over the years too.
Now you could say revolutionary left blogs are pointless because for most "mid-table" blogs (pulling in 100-300 hits a day), like AVPS, the audience is more or less made up of other left bloggers and activists, not "ordinary" working class people. Plus most of this audience's politics are pretty much set. A regular comment-leaver like Louise from the Labour left or Roobin of the SWP aren't likely to up sticks and start clamouring to be let into the SP. And vice versa. But what it does do is to allow for the building up of a rapport. Exchanges may occasionally concern themselves with the "crimes" of opposing groups, but over time, the general rule is relationships of varying degrees are built up. Most of them are weak, but they can be beneficial. They offer a ready-made outlet to assist real world mobilisations. And blog relationships can be the starting point for working relationships. If the left is forced by events to work together, say in an intensive campaign akin to the anti-Poll Tax struggle or the building of a new political formation, blogs can help overcome the misunderstandings and distrust that exist between groups.
There is another point I'd like to address, and that is the character of political blogging as a whole. Very soon Iain Dale's list of the top 100 political blogs will be released. Chances are it will be dominated by right wing bloggers because a) right wingers are more likely to vote in the contest, because its compiler is a Tory; and b) some on the left, notably Bloggerheads and Liberal Conspiracy called for a boycott. Nevertheless, though the left's 'star' blogs like LibCon, Lenin's Tomb and Socialist Unity out perform the majority of what the right have to offer in terms of audience, there is a general sense the left lag behind to an extent. This is partly because we're swimming against the current, partly because the left have been slower on the blogging uptake, and partly because the issues we choose to write about are removed from the minutiae of Westminster politics. Iain Dale and Guido get a lot of attention because they're plugged into the village and regularly deal in gossip and breaking politics news. This maybe the stuff of the anorak brigade, but their popularity proves there's a big audience for it.
Though there's no reason why a left blogger with a penchant for parliamentary shenanigans couldn't exploit a similar niche, provided they have the breadth of contacts. But this is not the route to the big time for left blogging. What we've got to understand is that our strength does not rely on a handful of influential blogs, but in the overall left blogging collective. By virtue of the homology between socialist values and many blogs who define themselves as anti-racist, or feminist, or LGBT, or environmentalist, or community-minded, it is probable the left side of political blogging globally has a greater audience than the right. But of course, the right are augmented by the mainstream media, giving them an incomparable advantage over us.
There are ways we can seek to overcome this disadvantage. We talk about what the right tends to avoid - social justice issues, the experience of those on the bottom of the pile, oppositional movements of varying kinds, activist life, fat cattery, the capitalist system itself, etc. As the economic slow down in the West starts to bite, it's reasonable to suppose this kind of commentary will find a wider audience. Second, we need to use the vast network of blogs we already have to grow our share of the audience. This requires we engage in blogging behaviour that encourages us to behave as if we are part of an actual, rather than potential collective. For example, a less aggressive style of polemic; mutual promotion of other left blogs; more attempts to build bridges with those whose natural home is on the left, but see themselves apart from it; and a greater number of collective endeavours - like the Carnival of Socialism, big blogs offering small blogs guest posts, and so on.
To get the left blogging collective to act more collectively is no easy task. But if we can, a greater audience for socialist ideas is the prize. And that is in all our interests.