Saturday 2 March 2013

The Far Left and the Media

What have the British media got against The King? In the Eastleigh by-election, the Elvis Loves Pets Party was frozen out by the press, BBC, Sky etc. You could be forgiven for thinking this blackout represented a conscious effort by the capitalist media to keep rhinestone suits from the public's gaze. Still, despite only polling 72 votes Elvis fans can rest easy knowing its leaflets were seen by thousands of people. I also have it on good authority that on enthusiasm and campaign vibrancy alone the ELP were the clear winners. A marker has been put down for advance in the years ahead. Who needs the media?

In the cosmology of the contemporary far left, be it Trot, Tankie, or something else, there are two possible relationships the Party can have with the media. Revolutionaries are either subject to a blackout (indeed, complaints about media indifference are now par the course for TUSC statements). Or, they are singled out for scurrilous attacks.

Socialist Action's defence of the SWP against a "bourgeois media offensive" encapsulates the latter quite nicely. While the press have, in the past, done numbers on Communist Party members and leading figures in Militant, this was in the context of a more powerful labour movement and a revolutionary left with not insignificant industrial and political clout. Furthermore both those organisations had some weight and impacted the course of political events. But to pretend the present "onslaught" against the SWP - which, off the top of my head, has consisted of two Mail articles, one apiece in The Sun, The Indy, The Graun, New Statesman, Progress, The Swindon Advertiser; and some Seymourist poststructural gubbins on gender and domination in CIF - forms a concerted effort to disrupt the left is gruel of the most watery kind. You would have to be suffering Spartoid-levels of disengagement with reality to sincerely believe such guff which, of course, many of the lynch mob 500 do.

Underlying both positions is an ideology of relevancy. Because the far left were once attacked in the press as dangerous subversives, critical scrutiny by the papers today are still interpreted by them through the self-same filters. The idea they could be filler for more salacious reasons, or simply because there weren't enough Kate Middleton photos that day does not even occur. Similarly the absence of coverage, of any evidence that the bourgeois press are concerned with the comings and goings of the far left, is, dialectically speaking, proof positive of an anxiety about revolutionaries.

Either way, both serve to anchor the identity of far left parties as oppositional entities with very fixed ideas about what is and want isn't socialist (and who is/isn't a socialist too), and to flatter the fortitude of its adherents. Gone is the notion that Marxist analysis is a guide to action. Instead it's Marxist position-taking as revolutionary identity politics.


Alex Dawson said...

The "old media" is dying. It has been dying for years and the decline is accelerating. The possibilities for direct engagement with ordinary people are wider and more numerous than ever. Mobiles, computers, emails...the list goes on.

Gone are the days when people would pick up one newspaper and that would be the sole conduit of their political information and world view.

Now people go online to various websites and have multiple information sources. They go on twitter, facebook, other social media. They can blog, set up their own newsfeed, get text alerts, watch news from across the globe, listen to tens of thousands of internet radio stations, do all manner of things. And people, particularly younger people, are doing so.

It's true to say the media is still largely in the hands of corporate control and interest (although the UK is in better shape than many other countries because of the BBC).

The left - in particular the component parts of TUSC - attempt to counter this corporate dominance of the media by printing their own newspapers at enormous cost, physical effort and sacrifice. They do this because in the pre-electricity agrarian Russia Lenin said it was important to have a newspaper to counter the bosses media as newspapers were the primary and sole source of information at the time.

Unfortunately the papers they produce, whilst worthy, are dull and detached from the mainstream and very few people actively seek to buy it out of choice. The religious adherence to all utterances of Lenin mean the left still think a newspaper is a vital tool whereas, in fact, they would be better served by setting up a well-funded new media operation.

If the left, in its entirety, were to pool its resources I believe it could set up a decent online platform for news, protest, organisation and agitation etc... Instead we have information overload - a multitude of substandard websites and is impossible to know where to turn for decent information. And of course thousands of papers are printed and distributed week in, week out only to be pulped again unread and unwanted.

I would hazard a guess that if Lenin and Marx were alive today they would not be advocating continuing to produce and print newspapers when the technology exists to set up an entire news and media operation with a few computers and an internet connection.

The bogeyman George Galloway has grasped the power of the internet more than most - it is widely accepted that, along with his dubious communalist approach to religious communities, the main reason behind his win in Bradford was grasping the power of social media. That is something TUSC has singularly and utterly failed to do and I have to say I consider Labour's online operations to be weak also.

TUSC can play the "media blackout" card as much as it wants. The fact is the traditional media is declining in influence by the day and the media/information landscape is far better for smaller parties and campaigns than it has been for 100 years.

Of course, the real reason that excuse is being wheeled out (along with all the others) is because TUSC's full-fat social democratic position is always going to fail to gain any sort of echo when Labour is in opposition to a Tory government.

The fact is that the limited focus of TUSC on winning over disillusioned trade union reps who are fighting defensively against a severe Tory/Liberal onslaught means that, save for a few figures, the priority is simply never going to be replacing Labour with Labour Mark 2.

There's also the question of the name, the approach, the set-piece 'public meetings', the attempts to recruit people who support TUSC to 'the party' to give up hours to do paper sales...

Anonymous said...

I think the names of the far-left's electoral fronts have been quite telling - they're invariable 'coalitions' or 'alliances', which present a picture of transience, that these aren't parties that are here for the long haul, or have any sort of tactical programme. So beyond a howl-in-the-dark protest vote, what are they offering as a reason for even the most disaffected and angry left-leaning person to vote for them?

Tom D

Phil said...

THe thing about left newspapers is I'm sure the two dozen central committees that presently exist know it's a dying medium. BUT a paper is indispensable for their model of party building. If you haven't a paper to flog, how can you raise funds? How can you keep the activists active?

Phil said...

I think it goes deeper than that, Tom. Most of the revolutionary left are incapable of doing the sorts of work a left alternative needs because of the pressing demands of their party project. Knocking about residents associations or organising a community litter pick will not sell any papers or keep the more excitable among the newly-radicalised interested.