Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the British Labour Party, recently asked Seumas Milne to be his director of communications. Milne is one of the few journalists currently working in the British media who is genuinely worth reading. Milne, for instance, wrote The Enemy Within, which is not the novelisation of the 1996 TV movie (Gary Russell courageously tackled that one), but rather a rigorous investigative expose of the way the Tory government – with help from the ‘security services’ and the tabloid press – set about trying to covertly undermine, smear and frame the NUM and Arthur Scargill during the 1984-5 Miners’ Strike.
Certainly, when you recall that David ‘Pigfucker’ Cameron’s choice for an equivalent post was Andy Coulson, you see evidence of a stark division – authentically based on a decency and honesty gap – opening up between the parties for the first time in quite a while.
Milne, however, is one of those Left-wing journos who has been repeatedly (and rightly) criticised by Media Lens for being less than brave about criticising the paper he writes for, even as he savages bias elsewhere. So he will already have ability to ruthlessly criticise other people for doing stuff that his own employers do too – something that will come in handy for the director of communications for a political party. (Just so as you know, Phil – if you start supporting Western imperialism, I’mma call you on it, ‘kay?)
Milne’s appointment has been hysterically decried by the Right (well, obviously) and also by figures ostensibly on the Left in ostensibly Left-wing publications (I won’t link to any of this tripe – if you want to see some of it, just google ‘corbyn milne’ and it’ll be the first stuff you see). Milne’s great crime is supposedly that he’s ‘an apologist for dictators and terrorists’, etc. If you actually go past the gibbering rhetoric of the denunciations and look at the articles they link to, you find Milne objecting to the ridiculous, dangerous, and hypocritical way Vladimir Putin (of whom I am certainly no fan) is demonized, or trying to provide valuable historical context for terrorist attacks on the West, and turmoil in the Middle East, and having the bad taste to locate such context in the sordid history of Western ‘intervention’. (The detractors link to these articles seemingly confident in the hope that you either won’t bother reading them, or that you’ll be wearing the same kind of ideological blinkers they do.) I don’t agree with every syllable of what Milne writes, but to call him an apologist for terrorism is just dishonest; and the whingeing about his Oxbridge background is hypocrisy of the highest order coming from the British media and political elites.
Relatedly, somebody asked me on Tumblr if I thought that Jeremy Corbyn has been so comprehensively smeared in the press that he is now useless against David Cameron. In other words: has a man who looks like Ben Kenobi (after resigning from the Jedi and becoming a Geography teacher) now been so traduced that he seems like a worse option than a man who lies like other people breathe, and whom most people seem to consider a plausible candidate for necrophiliac beastiality?
I have always said that the truly interesting and useful thing about Corbyn is that he is a barometer of the state of British politics… of the balance of forces in the class struggle, if you want the Marxist jargon. He stands as a demonstration of just how far the media – from the Right to what passes for the Left, i.e. Milne’s paper – will go to smear, belittle, insult, infantilise, etc, anyone who has the temerity to put forward basic social-democratic arguments in the age of neoliberal consensus.
But has this campaign – ‘Project Fear’ as Richard Seymour called it – done Corbyn terminal harm? I really don’t think so. Firstly, the kinds of people likely to be taken in by it are the kinds of people predisposed to be. They’re already the kinds of people who will be repulsed by Corbyn’s refusal to idolise the royal family, etc. Or who are already at least slightly horrified by the idea of any party leader diverging from the extreme, blood-soaked, Right-wing neoliberalism and Atlanticist neoconservatism that the mainstream media and political establishment likes to fatuously call ‘the centre’. The media project to make Corbyn look like the second coming of Lenin merely provides an aesthetic logic which organises and legitimises such predispositions. In many ways this is a normal task of ideology – to consolidate predispositions, to buffer rather than to persuade. Michael Parenti once called political discourse “the rational manipulation of irrational symbols”.
Having said that, Corbyn’s political discourse is unusual in that it does not lack substantive content (for all that I find it insufficient). The kinds of people already receptive to this content are also the kinds of people who were probably already expecting or half-expecting Project Fear, and are unlikely to be unduly put off by it. Thus Project Fear might have the equal and opposite effect of consolidating and agitating their own distrust of the mainstream media and political establishment… in much the same way that the original Project Fear, the febrile campaign waged against Scottish independence, will probably turn out to inherit the wind in the long run.
Another thing I’ve always said about Corbyn is that, if he is to have any real value, it will be as a spur to – or a part of, or a beneficiary of – social movements. The relation, if it gets established and takes off, will be dialectical, in that a social movement is the only thing that could, conceivably, propel him to power.
I still think a Labour victory next time is quite unlikely, Corbyn or no Corbyn… especially given the way the Tories now seem to be getting up to their old gerrymandering tricksbut on a larger scale. Of course, the moment a Left-wing Labour leader loses an election, the media will howl “See! Told you so!”, forgetting the number of times Right-wing Labour leaders have lost elections, and choosing to forget (i.e. declining to mention) their own part in sabotaging Corbyn’s leadership. The ostensible Left-wingers amongst them will do the same with the added oily coat of hypocrisy glistening on their skins, as they sneer about how the Left prefer to not be in power haw haw haw. The essential underlying logic employed is that the British public are irretrievably – even naturally, inherently – Right-wing, a claim which relies upon a lot of tactical amnesia.
The media – including and perhaps even especially the so-called ‘liberal’ or ‘Left-leaning’ media – does an immense amount to create and foster a climate that is Right-wing in real terms. They daily promulgate a Right-wing ‘common sense’, and peddle an agenda that makes Right-wing concerns seem like the only or the main concerns. Strategic ommission and forgetfulness is an essential part of this. (As ever, it’s amazing how people can contrive to not know, understand or remember things that don’t suit them.) The media doesn’t cover the fact that the electoral system is set up on the basis of random divisions of topography, and is thus inherently skewed away from allowing the mass of people to vote as political blocs based on their class and economic interests. The media chooses to see and represent reality in ahistorical – even atemporal – snapshots, as if people don’t change. You wonder why politicians bother campaigning if there are certain eternal truths about the opinions of the public that can’t be changed. Isn’t it possible, for instance, that Corbyn might be able to persuade chunks of the electorate away from the ostensibly all-encompassing Right-wing consensus, if he tried? But, of course, to listen to the media, you’d think Corbyn is cheating just by trying. “You can’t change their minds, and you’re not allowed to try in case you do,” is the implicit message.
The media is not a thing sitting alongside capital – it is capital. The political economy underlying the hegemonic way information is distributed in our society determines the kind of information distributed, and the spin put on it, and the way it is interpreted. This isn’t a conspiracy. It’s a self-organising dialectical process. The kind of information that gets disseminated is the kind that is deemed worth disseminating. The value is determined by assessing its believability, sensibleness, responsibility, plausibility, etc. In other words: its adherence to the pre-established standards of mainstream common sense which are further promoted and buttressed by the very process of selection I’m describing! These factors - believability, sensibleness, responsibility, plausibility, etc. – are relative and are evaluated by people. The people who do the evaluating are the people who get into the industry. The industry selects such people by their class position, and their related ability to make what it sees as good judgements. Once selected, such people generally nestle into a nice comfy echo chamber, buffered by privilege. And so on.
The irony here is that, for all his truly admirable credentials as an investigative journalist and a vocal opponent of Toryism, Western imperialist intervention, etc, Milne is a part of this same closed system, part of the same institution that refines the news based on judgements of what constitutes political sanity, that makes such judgements within internal loops of logic. Milne is unusual in how much he manages to contradict the agreed-upon verities of the loop, but he’s still in it… hence, perhaps, his unwillingness to criticise his own paper. Corbyn similarly exists within such a loop, the loop of Westminster… though, like Milne, he shows himself admirably more willing than most to venture outside of it.
You have to wonder how open both Milne and Corbyn will really be, when the crunch comes, to the very social movements – should they arise – that constitute what is really their only chance of making any kind of difference.
Certainly, other people are wondering that. As Phil remarked to me when we chatted about this, Milne has suddenly become “controversial” now that he’s no longer just an isolated voice in a partyless opposition curated by a pseudo-Left media outlet. He’s become an actual staff-member of an actually Left-wing Labour movement (and, much as Corbyn is just an old-fashioned social democrat, it’s surely reasonable to describe him as ‘Left-wing’ by today’s standards). As a result, Milne has suddenly drawn the intensive flack of the rest of the partyless-media-psuedo-Left (alongside the inevitable sneering and scaremongering of the Right). Suddenly he’s doing more than just providing an ‘alternative point of view’ that can be slotted in alongside otherwise relentless neoliberal acceptance. Suddenly he’s more than a minority voice that can be proffered by The Guardian as evidence of their independence whenever Media Lens bother them. Suddenly he looks like part of an actual opposition to neoliberal austerity and interventionism… maybe even part of a social movement.
I only hope the media-pseudo-Left’s fearful dreaded outcome turns out to be more realistic than my cynical one.
I’m currently reading an epic, entertaining, and hugely on-point sporking of Atlas Shrugged. (Starts here. Thanks to Daniel Harper for pointing me to the site. I don’t agree with the sporker – Susan of Texas – about the Bolsheviks, but there you go. I don’t agree with many people about the Bolsheviks.)
I remember saying, back in the day, that Fifty Shades of Grey was like Atlas Shrugged but stupider, and with added abusive sex.
I’m sorry to say, I did Fifty Shades of Grey a grave injustice.
I confess I didn’t finish Atlas Shrugged (oh god, the pain of trying to read that filthily written, evil book…) but I read enough of it to have lots of memories brought back clearly by the sporking I’m reading, and I now recall that, superficial similarities aside:
a) Atlas Shrugged is far more stupid than Fifty Shades of Grey,
b) Atlas Shrugged is only slightly better written,
c) Atlas Shrugged is an immensely more evil book than Fifty Shades, and
d) Atlas Shrugged does actually have abusive, cold-hearted sex in it.
I also confess that, when I forced myself to read three-quarters of Atlas Shrugged, I swallowed the idea that it’s a pro-capitalist book. It isn’t. Rather, it promotes a hateful, crypto-fascist, sociopathic elitism that is sometimes pressed into service as ideology by capitalism. Capitalism itself is actually not championed, not really-existing-capitalism anyway, as Rand clearly doesn’t understand capitalism well enough to praise its actual workings. She uses capitalism as a fetish object standing for her own cold, cruel, deeply immature impulses about domination.
I also said, more recently, that Iron Man is a literal Randroid. That was unfair too, albeit quite funny. A far better comparison would be Tobias Vaughn from the Doctor Who story ‘The Invasion’… a total elitist, incapable of any human emotions except selfish ones, utterly identifying with an alien power that he doesn’t really understand but which seems to service his longings for cruelty and power, and slipping from a ruthless concentration upon his own absolute liberty into an inhuman authoritarianism.
Who is John Galt? He’s a Cyberleader.