With access to the web we have so much information at our finger-tips, so much material that we can reach with a quick tap into Google. But I am increasingly frustrated at the lack of a decent left wing read.
I’m not talking about news. There are plenty of good outlets for hard news. I am talking about serious analysis, well-argued political comment, radical views that make you think rather than just confirm your existing outlooks.
It is not a particularly left/right issue. If we look at the weeklies, The Spectator has its moments but if that is the peak of what conservative intellectuals can produce then we are some way to understanding why the Tories have been so utterly clueless since Blair came along. Long gone are the days of Thatcherism when right-wing think-tanks and analysts came up with new agenda-setting ideas for their free-market ideology.
But we on the left have nothing better to brag about. The New Statesman, at various times in its history an essential read for anyone on the left, now simply depresses me. The line taken during the build-up to the war barely even considered the possibility that people on the left might not agree with the selfish slogans and petty nationalism of the Stop the War Coalition. They give space to idiotic apologists for Slobodan Milosevic while mocking the likes of John Lloyd, who whatever you might think about his politics, is at least one of the few left writers who is worth a regular read because he actually tries to convince people of his argument.
Red Pepper, which with its claim to provide a space for the independent red/green left once promised so much, is now just a slightly more radical sounding version of the Statesman and has joined in the inane cult of the personality that has developed around the likes of Chomsky and Pilger.
Tribune, once the home of the great debates within the labour movement, gives the impression of being run by a group of old University chums. I’m all for people taking a critical attitude to New Labour but somehow Tribune reaks of another cliquey, clubby, smug part of the left. Tribune, like Labour Left Briefing, seems to mirror New Labour’s insistence on people being “on message”. There really is very little that is challenging or thought-provoking in its pages.
As for the ‘red-top’ socialist weeklies – their only use is for comedy – to laugh at the attempts of the confused and bitter middle classes to try and ‘reach’ a working class they barely know. The assumption that the violent languages of “Smash, Stuff, Fight” will appeal to working people reveals the deep rooted fear of the working class that has long been the hallmark of all wings of the middle stratas.
The Morning Star? They don’t even have the excuse of Soviet censors anymore to explain away the sheer tedium of their daily offerings – yet what a waste.
Somehow, through the will and efforts of its supporters, the paper has continued to be produced – a real achievement. But if only it’s controllers would ever wake up to the fact that it might need to offer something worth reading. How wonderful it would be if Britain really did have a ‘daily paper of the left’.
So what remains? Well, I suppose we have the columnists on the broadsheets. By now you should know who I enjoy reading but are a few voices in the Guardian and Observer really enough for what purpotes to be a radical school of thought or even a political movement?
Is it beyond the collective efforts of the British left to produce a decent weekly or monthly to bring together some sense of a common discussion?
Back in the eighties and early nineties there we had Marxism Today. Like a number of those on the left I had a love/hate relationship with that magazine.
On the one hand there was its annoying attempts to constantly be ‘trendy’ and the voice of the magazine was too metropolitan for many of us in the North.
Politically there was, again particularly for us in the North, an inexplicable desire to accomodate the ‘hegemony’ of the very Thatcherism that had aroused us into protest and political activity in the first place. And then there was the Gramsci fetish which I shall return to at another time.
Politically MT is credited with laying the ground for New Labour. Blair is said to have been an avid reader (and if I am not mistaken an occassional contributor) but despite that the magazine was a genuine forum for discussion. It took Marxism out of the ghetto of badly produced, dense and grubby sheets into the shiny, glossy big, wide world. In the process though it seemed to lose much of its Marxism in the same way that New Labour lost much of its Labour but it was still very much worth a read.
It caused arguments and it got people on the left thinking and talking. In many ways I detested the magazine but I couldn’t wait for it to come through the letter box.
Does the dismal state of the left press merely reflect the state of the movement? I suppose if I were an anti-war activist looking for confirmation of my position I would not be lamenting so much. But to a degree it is a chicken and egg situation – does the left get the media it deserves or is that press partly responsible for the kind of left and kind of debate that exists?
Perhaps the problem is that the left I feel I belong to – one which rejects the cynicism and opportunism of New Labour politicians and the thoughtless sloganeering of the ultra-left – is hard to locate. There are many people who would place themselves in that broad space but there is nowhere for them to meet either physically or intellectually.
As long as that remains the case, the non-New Labour democratic left (There – I can’t even find a good label) is going to struggle to make an impact. A magazine may have its limitations but I wonder if it isn’t an essential first step in giving some punch back to the left?