Extra! Extra! Do something about it! By William Bowles

25 March 2006

Sparky

Judging by the stats on the site’s usage, many thousands of you read the daily GI Special, in fact it’s one of the most read sections on InI. The reason I mention it is that it reveals that the information put out by the MSM not just on Iraq but on virtually everything of importance, is to put it mildly, no longer trusted by increasing numbers of people and perhaps most importantly, people who have no previous political involvement. At least that’s my experience here on InI judging by the kinds of mail I get.

And this is not just wishful thinking on my part, the MSM are only too aware of the trend away from corporate news sources toward independent coverage of events. In an effort to try and grab back the audience, the MSM are now resorting to all kinds faux ‘people’s journalism’ including soliciting what they like to call ‘amateur’ news footage and stories (which has the added advantage of being free). In addition, they’ve realised (mistakenly in my opinion) the power of the ‘blog’ to attract readers, tapping into the ‘celebrity’ fashion. After all, who doesn’t like to see their name in print?

So, they’ve gone from ignoring the medium we made our own, to dissing it, to attempting to coopt it and finally imitating it. However, a corporately sponsored ‘blog’ remains a corporate news source regardless of how it’s dressed up. As ever, corporates can never, ever, innovate, all they can do is imitate and/or appropriate through the vast financial resources they command.

It’s interesting to track the corporate world’s response to the rise of the Internet. I’ve been involved in the use of what used to be called computer-mediated-communication or CMC, for over twenty-five years. In its early days its use was confined to academia and the military-industrial complex where it has its birth; then the financial sector was next to exploit its potential, followed by the large communications companies and, as the ubiquitous digital medium consumed everything in its path like a tsunami, takeovers and mergers between previously discrete sectors accelerated the concentration of ownership just as the digital form of communication made possible ‘convergence’. In fact, as with previous revolutions in production, the two processes are intimately inter-connected.

The emergence of what we call globalisation would—at least in its contemporary form—be impossible without the ubiquitous Internet and the ‘always on’ communications connections.

Yet in spite of the increasing lack of belief (and trust) in the mainstream media’s coverage of events and the potential power of the Internet, there still exists a vast gulf between thought and action. The reasons are complex but in no small measure are bound up not only with the lack of a political voice with which to express our views but also because increasingly, the state has retreated from its mandate to represent different voices even as it pays lip service to the idea of democracy.

Though this is by no means a new phenomenon, ‘democracy’ as far as capitalism is concerned is a very disposable commodity, useful when it serves the purposes of capital and quite readily dispensed with when the occasion warrants as any study of history so clearly reveals.

The current demand by the various capitalist states to restrict our democratic freedoms (never given to us, but won through struggle) reflects a deep malaise that afflicts our societies. The reasons given although presented to us as the ‘war on terror’, in reality reveals an economic and political system that has quite literally run out of road.

Hence the return to an older (and for its domestic populations at least), more primitive means of maintaining its power. But unlike earlier periods where, when necessary, capitalism maintained its grip through brute force, today’s ‘new barbarism’ utilises more subtle forms of control.

Throughout the ebb and flow of ‘news’ stories on one ‘threat’ after the other, there runs a common thread, the ‘us versus them’ theme. ‘Our’ way of life is thus closely connected to for example, ‘energy security’ which in turn is directly connected to the preservation of the ‘standards’ ‘we’ in the West enjoy by right of our (military and economic) might.

The theme is relentless, whether it’s the various and sundry ‘terrorist plot’ trials such as the one currently being conducted. Note how ‘threats’ such as Iranian ‘nukes’ occupy acres of newsprint for sustained periods then just as quickly vanish from the headlines, only to be replaced by a new’ threat’.

The treatment by the ‘news’ media is nothing if not consistent, so for example, the release of the peace activist Kimber this week was presented to us in the context of an “ungrateful” person who didn’t fall to his knees and thank his ‘liberators’ (British and American Special forces, though the fact that not a single shot was fired, nor were Kimber’s captors arrested, points to some kind of ‘deal’ being struck, about which we will in the fullness of time, no doubt be informed, but long after it can be connected to the illegal British and US occupation of Iraq (see “Was rescue of CPT members staged?“).

Right on time, the state rolled out General Sir Mike Jackson, head of British occupation forces in Iraq who was given ample air-time by all the MSM to demonise the unfortunate Kimber, innocent victim one minute and ingrate the next.

Note the theme that ‘Macho’ Mike Jackson used; ‘our’ heroic occupation forces, risking life and limb for that pacifist, peacenik wimp Kimber. Yet the overwhelming number of kidnappings in Iraq are not of foreigners but Iraqis, about whom we learn nothing and in any case, what’s an Iraqi’s life worth when compared to a European. Always the disjuncture between ‘us’ and ‘them’.

Hence the importance of the war of words and ideas that is so necessary in selling the ‘war on terror’. Yet the ‘message’ embedded in the ‘war on terror’ is the same one that has been at the centre of capitalist society for centuries; a message based upon the fiction of the superiority of the white ‘race’ and of European ‘civilisation’.

It also becomes clear why it’s so important that no connection is established between the oppression and barbarism being visited on the people of Iraq and the increasing repression at home. That’s why Muslim/Arab must be presented to us as an alien phenomenon just as the ‘Red Menace’ was and still is. For as long as capitalism’s domestic populations can be convinced that ‘their’ way of life is under threat, it’s virtually impossible to make the connection between foreign and domestic repression let alone the real reasons for invading foreign lands that are no threat to us.

Throughout the 20th and into the 21st century, I maintain that the central problem for the Left has been the issue of how to reconnect the relationship between the poor and oppressed of the planet and those of us lucky enough to have been born in the developed world. Inevitably, it is only made apparent to us when thousands or millions die, apparently due to their own ‘backwardness’ or the vagaries of the climate, then suitable hang-wringing takes place, wallets are taken out, money changes hands (very little of which reaches the ‘victims’), reputations (and even fortunes) are made and then we sink back into a consumerist narcosis.

Yet even the sleep of ages is increasingly being disturbed by the nightmare of a planet ravaged possibly beyond redemption. The question for us is can we not do anything before it’s too late? What does it take for Christ’s sake to wake us up?

In many ways it’s a chicken and egg situation for although many millions of us are thoroughly disgusted with our alleged political leaders lying and hypocrisy, the alternatives are pretty thin on the ground. This is not only because the ruling political class has created a cynical and fatalistic attitude in the minds of many people but when we cast around looking for a group, large or small, we find that that political opposition has been effectively castrated.

Even the formerly grass roots membership of mass organisations such as the Labour Party have been decimated, having lost at least 50% of its membership. This is due in no small measure to the concentration of power into the hands of a tiny elite centered around Blair’s ‘cabinet’ but also because Parliament, allegedly a democratic institution has become nothing more than a rubber stamp for Blair’s neo-liberal agenda. Ironically, the only opposition Blair has comes from an undemocratic, indeed unelected House of Lords! Is there anything as nutty as Britain’s lunatic and archaic political system?

But perhaps more importantly, it’s also because even those MPs who oppose Blair’s policies take the position that it’s more important to keep a Labour government in power even if it means dumping every last vestige of the reasons for being in power in the first place! Yet more insanity and hypocrisy in action.

Yet this has long been the reality of capitalist ‘democracy’ based as it is on the idea that by being in ‘power’ influence can be brought to bear on the real makers of policy, surely an idea that is proven false by the current reality of a Labour government that has gotten its way with every one of its objectives. And this is a position made all the more insane by virtue of the fact that with virtually nothing to distinguish any of the three major parties one from the other, what does it really matter which one is in power?

Historically, elections in the leading capitalist states have amounted to little more than revolving doors, with the essential economic and political relationships remaining intact regardless of which political party is in power.

In the past, those on the Left rationalised their begrudging support for an allegedly left of centre government using two arguments; one, that they could exert more influence over a leftish government and two, using the ‘lesser of two evils’ approach to the electoral process.

In 2005, this approach came to a head in the US and resulted in the first serious challenge to a position held by the traditional left for the better part of fifty years. In fact, it was and remains a watershed in this post-Soviet era that has yet to resolve itself, and in my opinion, is one that is long overdue. Perhaps now, the stranglehold the ‘old’ left has on both the theoretical and practical aspects of opposition to capitalism can be at last, challenged, based as it is on an all too comfortable relationship between the political establishment and those who claim to be in opposition to it?

Yet for all the soul-searching on what remains of the organised left in the advanced capitalist states, as yet it does nothing to address the issue of how to re-involve citizens in the political process, pointing to the far more fundamental problem that I outlined above.

Yes, we can argue that propaganda and state-sponsored brainwashing via the education system plays a significant role in this process but there is no getting away from the fact that many millions of working people benefit directly from the exploitation of the poor of the planet.

But as we are seeing, our position of relative advantage is being eroded by capitalism itself as it struggles to maintain its profits through the export of jobs to cheap labour areas. The burning question as to how long this can go on is, as yet, not even being asked by the Left.

Will we, as in the past, be dragged into some awful conflagration or, will nature decide for us, before we wake up to the reality of a system that fundamentally hasn’t changed in decades?

* I trust Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting won’t mind my purloining the Sparky image for this piece, it’s entirely in keeping as I designed and produced the print editions of the journal Extra! as well as being an occasional contributor from its inception in 1987 thru to 1990.

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