Monday 9 February 2015

Red Baiting and the Media

It's reds under the beds time! Or rather in the newly insurgent Green Party. According to today's Mirror, "hard left activists" have flocked to the Greens. Natalie Bennett has been forced to deny that significant numbers of former Socialist Workers Party members have been signing up, though the paper notes "her own partner is an ex-SWP ­stalwart". They omit to mention that his membership ceased well over 10 years ago. It also notes with shock that the Greens are now taking a leaf out of Syriza's book - "the anti-austerity message seems more important to the party than its green roots these days – Ms Bennett barely mentions the environment once in our interview". How dare the Greens not conform to the tree-eating, muesli-hugging stereotype! In all, if this was a red baiting attack then the party comes out of it rather well.

I don't know, red baiting remains an occasionally-spotted beast in our declining press. The Daily Mail (who else?) are its main exponents, using Marx to smear the CofE (and Ed Miliband), attack the UN's special rapporteur, Raquel Rolnik, and - again - Ed Miliband. The question is ... why bother?

Generally speaking, British attempts to whip up McCarthy-esque hysteria have always fallen flat. No matter how scary the Cold War got, being a card carrying member of the official Communist Party was not always a barrier to "getting on" in life or the labour movement. Indeed, in some workplaces it was a positive boon. The CPGB for much of the post-war period fostered a network of militants, conveners, and trade union full-timers. Workers prepared to follow their communist conveners out the factory gates, or to support CPGB-endorsed candidates in union elections were hardly convinced of the burning necessity of socialist revolution or, as per the party, The British Road to Socialism, but they knew communist trade unionists tended to get the job done. They were backed because in many workplaces they were the best fighters for workers' interests. That and few would forget the terrible sacrifices made by the Soviet Union in our wartime alliance against the Nazis. Red baiting tended to cohere anti-communist solidarity among sections of the bourgeoisie, bits of the small business-owning class, and various bits and bobs of middling layers. The great mass of workers were indifferent because for all the baby-eating that went on at CPGB Sunday afternoon socials, party activists were very handy when it came to securing wage rises and getting your job back.

As the labour movement withered and declined, the CPGB evaporated into pressure group irrelevancy. Yet for many hacks, like the ignorant unfortunates that penned the above, British newspaper audiences remain studiously stubborn in the face of red baiting. And that's because it belongs to the past. It's been nearly 25 years since the Soviet Union consigned itself to the history books and, later, Wikipedia. The preeminent bearer of the red flag these days is China, a country better known for capitalism with Chinese characteristics than anything else. Cuba, whose sun, sand, and socialised medicine has helped evade any attempt to make it into a credible bogeyman; and these days few in the media bother branding the grotesque monarchy of North Korea "red" or "communist". Indeed, for it to work it depends on the general population having a political understanding of a certain level. As well over a third of those living right now on this sceptered isle were either too young to remember or weren't born while the USSR was still knocking about, it's not likely to have much of a purchase here. Indeed, some might venture that socialism's starting to look a bit sexy again thanks to Greece and the association of the Greens and SNP with anti-austerity here. Red baiting, which has never worked anyway, is all set to be entirely counter-productive too. So if you think you're helping Labour, Daily Mirror, just pack it in.

I don't know if you can be an unrepentant ex-anything, but by way of a foot note I am an unrepentant ex-Trot. My four-and-a-bit years in the Socialist Party taught me loads about campaigning. I also learned a great deal about how not to do things too, but overall it was a positive experience and helped make the Stakhanovite hero of socialist erudition I am today. Those experiences are part of me and I will never apologise for them, nor should any socialist whose been to Trotland and back. The Mirror is wasting its time trying to "expose" green lefties - stick to the Tory bashing and the Slender Man/black-eyed children stories.


howard fuller said...

Seems the Mirror inspired two blog peices this evening. Mine was.... err a little different to yours.

But Trotland put me off "socialism" forever.

CJ said...

"the association of the Greens and SNP with anti-austerity" you could've mentioned Plaid Cymru too. In fact, you should have. How the Welsh always seem over-looked is exactly why Plaid Cymru's existence and electoral success is so important.

Phil said...

One reason why Plaid is overlooked is because they're not benefiting from a Green/SNP-style insurgency. Sadly it appears Wales is as susceptible to UKIP's blandishments as England.

Vinyl Miner said...

Scotland returned a UKIP MEP remember but I am quite happily watching the SNP left play footsie with the Solidarity/CWI/SWP alliance that exists in Scotland.