Socialist Worker

Why do we need a socialist newspaper?

by Kevin Ovenden on the importance of ideas
Issue No. 1853

'THE MOVEMENT is so fresh. Why do you look back to old ideas? Why do you produce a paper and spend time selling it?' Those questions came up at a recent Marxist forum. The answers in the discussion arose out of the experiences people have had within the anti-capitalist and anti-war movements.

The last three years have seen the growth of a tremendous global movement. Nothing showed it more clearly than 15 February this year. Two million people marched in London - the biggest demonstration in British history. It is easy to forget that it took place just three months ago. The government and the establishment have not forgotten. They felt their blood run cold at the sight.

It confirmed the old socialist idea that the mass of working class people can and do suddenly erupt into conflict with the system. Of course, millions of people are not in permanent revolt. They usually feel ground down and isolated. Capitalism functions in a variety of ways to keep people feeling like that.

But we have seen a glimpse of how rapidly large numbers of individuals sharing a common hatred of at least an aspect of the system can come together and discover their power.

We have seen something else as well - the lengths which our rulers will go to in order to throw back that movement. The established political parties and the media combined to corral it. It was not just the barrage of pro-war propaganda.

It was also the more subtle claim that the real argument over the war was taking place in parliamentary politics, between Tony Blair (backed by Iain Duncan Smith) and Charles Kennedy. When the war started Kennedy (and most Labour backbenchers) went along with it, whatever their previous reservations. So did the Daily Mirror.

That shows why we need an alternative to the official media. There are other reasons to do with the growth of the movement itself. Throughout history huge movements have developed drawing in new layers of people who never previously regarded themselves as political. That is what has given the anti-war and anti-capitalist movements great strength.

Attempts to write off the anti-war demonstrations or anti-capitalist events such as Genoa two years ago as the work of a few militant activists foundered. There developed among everyone involved in the movement a deep sense of unity, no matter what their wider political viewpoint. Large numbers of people drew the connections between war and other issues. The movement constantly throws up political questions.

The attempt by the Italian state to smash the anti-capitalist movement off the streets at Genoa provoked a sharp debate. Some argued the murder of protester Carlo Giuliani meant it was no longer possible or right to try to mobilise mass protests again.

Others, who became the majority, argued that the way to face down the repression was by drawing even larger numbers of people into the mass protests. They had to argue against both those who wanted to put polite pressure on the powers that be and those who wanted a minority of activists to confront the state on behalf of everyone else.

The anti-war movement has been marked by debate since its inception. What became the majority view was that the movement should encompass all those who opposed the war. The aim was to encourage a myriad of local initiatives and, crucially, draw people together in mass mobilisations to focus our force on the government. There was a spontaneous mass feeling against the war.

That only turned into mass protests because people organised together for them to happen. Organisation within the movement is not only necessary over tactical questions about how best it can go forward. Even people opposing the system over one issue, for example the war on Iraq, can accept some of the lies pumped out over other issues.

Just because someone opposes the war on Iraq does not mean they automatically see through the right wing lies about asylum seekers. Involvement in the movement means they are more likely to. But that depends on people winning those arguments.

That is why Socialist Worker does not simply provide facts about the war and occupation of Iraq that are buried in the mainstream media. It seeks to connect the whole range of issues. It looks to the best experiences of activists to try to offer a way forward for the movement as a whole. It also draws on the history of previous struggles.

There has been a debate in the working class movement about persuasion versus mass forceful mobilisation, and reform as opposed to revolution, since the Chartist movement of the 1840s. The great issues that come up today are new takes on questions thrown up in every social movement in history. We should not be afraid of looking back at them for inspiration and pointers for today. It would be the height of arrogance not to.

Socialist Worker is sold through networks of people. That helps pull those networks together into an organised force that can mobilise wider numbers over every battle the system throws up.

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Article information

What Socialists Say
Sat 31 May 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1853
Share this article

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.