“Those who manipulate the unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government, which is the true ruling power.” (Edward Bernays)
This month the International Socialist Group launched a new radical left wing media project Communiqué; a youth-led project based in Scotland that has been created by and for a generation failed by Capitalism, that consists of a monthly broadsheet, podcast, and a blog that is updated daily.
The project has been developed in reaction to the neoliberal consensus that dominates our society. The media is commonly known as the fourth pillar of democracy because of its ability to act as a bridge between the government and the population, but its intrinsic involvement with networks of power and influence – from corporate and financial to those of the state – has meant that the mainstream media has been allowed to proliferate ideas which ultimately benefit the elites. Rupert Murdoch’s media empire is a perfect example of this. As a result, only certain news stories and ideas are permitted to dominate in the public sphere – information involved in sustaining the power of both states and capital.
It is for this reason that Communiqué has been created; the general public is all too often unaware that the character of this infrastructure has a direct impact on the range of opportunities available to them. This problem is becoming even more acute in terms of the current economic crisis and the spread of austerity measures across Europe. We are being fed sensationalist stories of ‘welfare scroungers’ and ‘feral youths’ and told of the harsh sentences they deserve and at the same time live in a society that allows the wealthy elite to dodge their taxes, often without so much as a whisper from the press.
Real news should come from grassroots movements; it should involve people from working class communities and be talking about issues that affect them: the NHS, austerity, education, their job, their benefits, and new forms of resistance. Today more than ever, what defines working class and youth resistance is its international dimension. People are inspired by the Arab revolutions, they take confidence from the resistance movements against austerity in Europe.
The messages that we receive and the medium in which we receive them are inextricably linked, anti-capitalist ideas that challenge neoliberal hegemony must too challenge their domination of our audiovisual world. Communiqué – through its blog, podcast and broadsheet – presents the idea that whether you live in Drumchapel or Coatbridge, Detroit or Cairo, you are not alone in facing attacks from corporations and the state. We are all part of an international movement of resistance.
The establishment discourse is as undiscerning as it is naïve. The truth is that the vast majority of people in Scotland are fed up of the status quo. And how many people honestly believe that any form of serious challenge to the host of social ills previously mentioned will ever come from Westminster?
The next two years will decide the future of the British state – one of the most reactionary entities on the face of the planet. The positive associations that once existed – the NHS, social housing and other elements of a progressive welfare system – have been eroded by decades of neoliberal privatisation. We need to ask ourselves an important question: what does Britain represent for anyone under the age of thirty? What does it mean? The answer is all too clear. Young people are angry – and its not hard to see why. The media rarely report (with any degree of accuracy) the real reasons for the proliferation of anger and alienation. But this is what Communiqué aims to do.
Let’s remember that a thirty-year-old would have been fifteen when New Labour came back to power in the 1997 general election after a long spell in the political wilderness. There is no need to spell out the level of decimation inflicted upon working class communities by the preceding Thatcher and Major governments. But 1997 represents the last clear point in which people felt a sense of hope about what the British state might be able to achieve. This was Britain’s Obama moment. Finally the Thatcherite nightmare was over. But reality proved to be far removed from the expectation held by so many – Blair was more of a let down than the Senator from Illinois proved to be more than a decade later. Communities around the country hoped for a return to the politics of social justice, but instead they were met with a neoliberal assault more extensive than that of the Conservatives. So what has Britain achieved internally since then? What have consecutive governments (of all three of the major political parties) delivered for ordinary people in the UK? Extreme austerity; rising social inequality; poverty on a greater scale than seen for generations; exacerbation of the social housing crisis; the privatisation of nearly every remaining publicly owned utility… the list is endless. Needless to say, there is little (if anything) to celebrate.
And that is not all. The very institutions of supposed democracy in this country have been hollowed out to the extent that they are almost meaningless. Westminster is a sham, stumbling from one crisis to the next. If the expenses scandal wasn’t enough, the interconnection between News International and every major political party exposed the level of corruption at the heart of the political establishment and the extent to which politicians will do anything to curry favour with corporate interests. It is little wonder that more than half the population have very little or no confidence in parliament (British Social Attitudes Survey, 2009).
The crisis of 21st Century Britain is acute. And this is before we even mention Iraq. This month William Hague told the London Evening Standard that it is time for Britain to end its feelings of “post colonial guilt”. “I think we should relax” he said, “it was a long time ago”. Tell that to the people of India, of Ireland, of Iraq. The history of the empire was not written in ink – it was written in blood, and it is still being written today.
Iraq represents the pinnacle of modern Britain’s crisis. Not only is it the case that its unpopularity lead to the biggest social movement in British history, its that the British state, under the leadership of a Labour Prime Minister, was in the vanguard of orchestrating this imperial misadventure. It cost nearly £10 billion, the lives of 179 British troops and, most importantly, the lives of more than a million Iraqis. Add to this the ongoing débâcle that is Afghanistan, the intervention of Gordon Brown during the crash of 2008, and the stalwart defence of American interests around the globe and it is plain to see that this country plays no progressive role on the world stage.
From Thatchers championing of the neoliberal economic model back in the late seventies to imperial intervention and international austerity today, Britain has been at the heart of an Anglo-American project to alter the contours of global politics. For decades (if not centuries) the UK has played a vanguard role in advancing the most reactionary set of politics both at home and abroad. The real axis of evil runs from Washington to London.
So it is little wonder that frustration, anger and alienation are breaking out into riots on the streets of the British capitol. Yet the establishment discourse is as undiscerning as it is naïve. The truth is that the vast majority of people in Scotland are fed up of the status quo. And how many people honestly believe that any form of serious challenge to the host of social ills previously mentioned will ever come from Westminster? The truth is it will not happen. And everyone knows it.
The 2014 referendum may have been triggered by an SNP electoral victory, but it provides massive opportunities for the left. The starting gun has fired, but the official Yes campaign is currently still stalling at the starting line. This is problematic, but it is also an opportunity – if the left choose to seize the moment. We could end the existence of one of the worlds most reactionary bodies: the British State. Of course there are those who say that this will break up the British working class: “Nationalism is, at it [sic] core, a deeply negative and regressive politics,” asserts Labour MP Willie Bain. “I care just as much about a child growing up in poverty in my constituency in Glasgow as I do a child in poverty in Liverpool, Cardiff, London, Aberdeen, Dundee or Edinburgh.” But presumably, if Willie Bain is opposed to “nationalism”, he favours “internationalism” instead. In which case, it is a highly peculiar internationalism that includes Cardiff and Liverpool but not Dublin, Athens or Baghdad.
Of course it is not the case that an independent Scotland will be automatically more progressive than Britain. Far from it. With the existence of the Brian Souters of this world there are clearly some supporters of independence who want to see a low-tax corporate haven, but that is not inevitable and is entirely dependent on the balance of forces in Scottish society.
It is no surprise that the people who are most likely to support Scottish independence are the youth and the working classes (Scottish Opinion Survey, Independence Poll, TNS, December 2010), the people most disenfranchised by the British establishment. These people are the true constituency of the left.
On an organisational and institutional level the left in Scotland is incredibly weak – fractured over the years by internal squabbling and splits. But the campaign for independence provides an opportunity to renew and unite. We need campaigns that articulate the transformative potential of independence, that put forward a vision of Scotland that workers and young people deserve, where social justice, environmentalism and opposition to nuclear weapons and militarism are placed firmly at the top of the agenda. It is young people from working class communities that will be the new left in years to come, that will have the biggest impact on the future, and they can be mobilised now, but only if we reach out to them.
As Scotland enters into the most important political period of its history, a break must be made with the past: empire, tradition and old methods of agitation. The days of the revolutionary paper are over. Communiqué seizes new technologies to unleash radical left-wing ideas for the new left, delivering an analysis of capitalist society in Scotland and beyond which rejects the consensus that austerity at home and war abroad is the best our generation can expect. Communique has been launched by the ISG, but it is a tool for everyone, for ordinary people affected by real issues to have a voice, and be heard.