Friday, 3 August 2012

In praise of Radical Journalism.


In the last fortnight two great journalists of the Left have died, first it was Alexander Cockburn and then it was Gore Vidal. Both men belonged to that noble tradition of radical journalism which has long served as a counter to the mainstream media. This line could be traced back to the revolutions of the US and France where journalist Tom Paine was a participant. Then there was Jean-Paul Marat who damned many from his bathtub in the newspaper The Friend of the People. It is often forgotten today that Karl Marx was a political journalist in his day and covered the French coup of 1852 which enthroned Louis Bonaparte for Die Revolution. To this day The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon remains highly readable and compulsively quotable. Today the field may seem barren at a first glance, but we shouldn’t forget the message of optimism which Claud Cockburn propagated and which his son Alexander took on to trumpet. The struggle is hardly over yet, a lot has been lost but there are weaknesses and still time.

In Britain it is the Right which is truly desolate of talent, the spirit of 1979 lives on in the form of an incompetent and barely functional gang of vandals. Hayek's libertarianism was replaced with the ‘red Toryism’ of Phillip Blond, it’s clear that Thatcherism has been put on the defensive and there is no offensive yet. Across the pond we find the Republicans have no William F Buckleys, just Glenn Becks and hogroasts for the petit-bourgeoisie. The ground is more than ripe for progressivism, let alone radicalism. Right now, the most prominent left-wing journalists this side of the Atlantic are Owen Jones and Laurie Penny. To the reader Penny Red pitches herself as a walking Feminist-Marxist dialectic with an affinity for the spontaneous non-hierarchical model of Occupy. Jones offers an unapologetic defence of the working-class from a commonsense starting-point grounded in a Eurosceptic leftism. If we want perfection then we would be better off as liberals awaiting the arrival of the angels who will redeem us cleanly, politely and without violence.

The best way to support a government in its staggering ineptitude and criminality is to keep quiet. One such instance was the US bombing of Somalia last year, which was met only with silence in the Western media. Yet there was plenty of ink and film to cover the famine in Somalia and its exacerbation by Islamists. The victimhood of black Africa is a fine story to cover when the villain is Islam. The same can be said of Sudan where the rape and killing of black Africans by Arabs has drawn universal condemnation, and rightly so, though no one ever intended to do anything about it. This is also the case with hunger in Somalia. Only cheap moralisations made safely from soapboxes by liberals were provoked. There is precious little coverage of the atrocities committed in the Congo, where armies of drugged children swarm around the mining of coltan to feed the demand for computers and mobiles elsewhere in the world. No wonder then that the complicit are silent and on Fox News the attack dog Bill O'Reilly often tells his mildly disagreeable guests to "shut up!"

This is the important role of the whistleblower, which sometimes cannot be fulfilled by journalists, and this is the significance of Julian Assange and Daniel Ellsberg. The real service of leaks is not to confirm what we already know, it's to undermine the ideological veneer which power needs to maintain itself. No one was outraged to learn about American crimes in Iraq through WikiLeaks. It's just that the crimes are now viewable on YouTube and that is the real outrage. Bradley Manning is a hero of our times. The fact that he has been held for so long, and possibly tortured, testifies to the impotent rage of the powerful. The same goes for when neoconservatives label Alexander Cockburn as a low level Stalinist anti-Semite. The unacceptability of Cockburn to the prevailing consensus is demonstrable of Cockburn's importance as a journalist. Its intolerance to the point of slander should be taken as a compliment. Claud Cockburn was always too prickly for the Establishment to handle, in contrast to the ease with which they swallowed Orwell.

In the same way that John Pilger is regularly accused of ‘anti-Americanism’ in his work, this is almost a stamp of honour. He’s more trustworthy because he is shunned by the Establishment. The problem with George Orwell, as well as Tom Paine, is that he has been fully assimilated into the prevailing standards and shibboleths of the liberal commentariat. The man who went to Spain to fight Fascism and didn’t take the side of Stalinism. Animal Farm and 1984 became the curriculum for Western children after his death as the Cold War got going. Even though Orwell was a heroic journalist of the democratic socialist ilk, his work has been appropriated by the rabid anti-Communists of Right and Left. The neoconservatives lay claim to him and the liberals who adore him often turn a blind-eye to Orwell’s tirades against gays and vegetarians. Thus, the appeal of Claud Cockburn, a far less acceptable figure. The taming of the once unacceptable may be rampant today, but there are still dissidents in the contemporary discourse.

If we want to get ‘pricklier’ today, then we might read the blogposts of Richard Seymour at Lenin’s Tomb. There we find a refreshing read in a blogosphere of dullards, the combination of a raging leftism and the clarity of thought. He has written extensively on liberal imperialism, the rise of David Cameron as well as the American tradition of dissent and its politico-cultural context. Seymour’s major flaw is that he is essentially dedicated to the party-line of the SWP, placing him in the heterodox Trotskyist line which has little time for autocritique and can only swallow Gramsci, Adorno, Marcuse, Althusser and Žižek with a hefty dose of Leninism. The Frankfurt school can’t be forgiven for its passivity, neither can Althusser for his ‘Stalinism’ while any suggestion that the work of Karl Marx might be in need of an update is written-off as a compromise too far. Though it has to be said that Seymour is a rarity in his intelligent grasp of theory and the issues at hand, while he exercises a capacity to blend together insight and invective with witticism.

No comments: