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Ian A: The paper

Ian A: The paper

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Ian A from Bury & Prestwich SWP writes in response to debates about the revolutionary press and the role of the internet.
Ian A from Bury & Prestwich SWP writes in response to debates about the revolutionary press and the role of the internet.

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Published by: revolutionary socialism in the 21st century on Dec 06, 2013
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12/31/2013

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The Paper Ian A
In IB3 p.115 a comrade from Coventry highlights the lack of focus on the paper by comrades on all sides of the current divisions in the SW. !e is absolutely correct in this" but only partially correct to diagnose the problem #that the ideological impact of $ohn and %indsey on our party has not been resolved and has not been &orked out'.(he relationships bet&een Socialist Worker" the party" and our audiences have changed radically overthe last t&enty years yet the political causes and conse)uences of these changes have barely been discussed
i
.If the root cause of the SW*s decline has been a failure to develop accurate perspectives and correctly orientate itself since the early years of the #do&nturn'" it is no& &idely recognised that the closure of party branches compounded and accelerated this degeneration. (he &inding do&n of paper distribution played a comparable role in the decay of both the internal political culture of the SW and the party*s relationship &ith its periphery.(he Coventry comrade*s proposed solution #re+emphasise the selling of the paper' is as partial as hisdiagnosis. In parallel &ith developing a perspective firmly grounded in today*s realities" &e need to revie& the political functions of revolutionary papers and ho& those functions can best be fulfilled given the changes in both electronic and printing technology. We need to obstinately defend the political reasons for having a paper &hile responding to ne& opportunities and challenges.Serious revolutionaries have al&ays sei,ed on the latest and most effective methods of communication. If &e &ant to attract the most serious young militants" &e can ill afford to continue displaying such conservatism.
The Roles of the Revolutionary Press
I urge comrades to read -or re+read Chris !arman*s 1/0 article #(he 2evolutionary ress'
ii
.or hundreds of years" any revolutionary serious about &inning over and mobilising the masses has needed a paper. 4e&spapers &ere the primary tool for communicating ideas to a mass audience given the technology and resources available to revolutionaries.We recognise that people hold contradictory ideas and that these are most open to change through the eperience of struggle. We &ant to &in people over. (he paper tries to relate specific aspects of &orkers* eperience to our general politics" a coherent &orld vie&" and the tasks of the moment. Some eperiences push &orkers to&ards revolutionary conclusions" &hile others pull them a&ay" so a revolutionary paper can*t simply reflect all eperiences" it has to select" distil" augment and analyse them to give a lead rather than passively reflecting &orking class life.In stark contrast to the bourgeois press" &hich presents each story in isolation 6 as a &elter of unconnected random events -e.g. crime unconnected to poverty" rape unconnected to age 3 6 the revolutionary paper dra&s out the connections and relationships. 7any &orkers are cynical about the paper because they kno& the bourgeois media lies and distorts. We have to ensure our paper is accurate and reliable if &e are to build the trust &e need to &in the leadership of the class. We needthe highest 8ournalistic standards.(he revolutionary paper includes propaganda and agitation. It helps sellers to identify their audience&ithin large cro&ds on street sales or demonstrations -one reason &hy eye+catching headlines matter.
 
(he paper reports struggles that &ould other&ise go unreported. 4ot only does this provide opportunities to build support" make arguments and dra& out lessons" it also helps the paper build readership. Comrades can go back to &orkers &ith the paper carrying a report of their struggles. (his is most po&erful if the &orkers themselves helped &rite the report. Building an audience for the paper builds the periphery of an organisation and politically prepares for future gro&th.Comrades operating in different locations" industries and campaigns sell the same paper and are forced to defend its line to regular buyers. (his encourages comrades to take up disagreements &ithin the party and thrash them out + centralising" facilitating and clarifying political arguments and unifying scattered groups.(he revolutionary paper has to ans&er the )uestion #What Is (o Be 9one:' &eek in and &eek out. Itneeds to take up arguments on key strategic )uestions. ;nlike the bourgeois media" &hich is fiated on the ne&" it should not be afraid to repeat key arguments over and over again -hopefully in different forms. It also needs to address #What Is (o Be 9one:' in a more immediate sense 6 arguing ho& to &in in different campaigns and industrial disputes.!arman*s article eplains clearly ho& the method of connecting eperience to general politics differs bet&een an #upturn' and #do&nturn'. < do&nturn paper has to use longer articles" analysis" history"theory and international eamples" as #
Workers no longer discover for themselves the power of collective action. They do not see in practice how false the ideas of the ruling class are. It is only a minority – sometimes a very small minority – of the class who continue to adhere to a revolutionary socialist vision. And they do so on the basis not of direct experience, but of general ideas that have been developed out of struggles in the distant past or in distant countries
'.!arman also &arns about the danger of a #pseudo+agitational' paper=
This gives the appearance of reflecting an upsurge of real struggle. It is written in the language workers use in their everyday lives and it is full of accounts of exciting battles and exposures of the horror of the system! Instead of providing the activists with arguments for coming to terms with this situation, the paper with its phoney picture of enthusiasm and success simply leaves its readers cold! 
The Paper as an Organiser
It is a commonplace for comrades to say that the paper is an organiser. (his is based on ideas from %enin*s 1/>? pamphlet #What Is (o Be 9one:'
iii
. (he process of collecting reports for the paper" producing and distributing it" selling it and collecting money for it &ould create a net&ork across the &hole country linking members and readers in a t&o+&ay political and organisational relationship &ith the political centre.(&enty years ago" paper distribution and contact visiting &ere ma8or parts of the life of every SW branch. Branches &hich met on a (hursday night &ould also meet up on a Wednesday to arrange delivery of papers to members and contacts at their homes or &orkplaces. < good branch paper organiser &ould kno& not only ho& many papers each comrade sold" but &ho to. Branches &ould maintain a #contact register' listing paper buyers and other key contacts in the area.(he dissolution of the branches had a terrible impact on paper distribution. Instead of an ongoing political relationships" &e relied more on &ho &e bumped into at particular meetings or protests. 7any members didn*t receive or pay for the paper. (o counteract unreliable distribution" members and readers &ere encouraged to get their papers by post" formalising the reduction of the paper*s organisational role. In the days of paper distribution" readers &ould also receive small bundles of
 
leaflets for &hatever &as going on" &hich they &ere asked to distribute. 7ailing of the paper disconnected readers from local branches. (hese days many readers &ill have read key articles online long before they get their hands of a physical copy of the paper.9istribution of the paper &asn*t the only aspect to suffer.If at least some of your paper sales aren*t to the same people regularly" you are less likely to have to defend its contents 6 forcing you to read it carefully and to take up disagreements &ithin the organisation. (he paper*s role in centralising political arguments &ithin the organisation to unify the party is therefore reduced 6 arguments can fester in different sections of the party &ithout ever being had out and resolved.With members and readers having a more passive relationship to the paper" there &as less emphasis on training comrades to &rite and submit reports to the paper. <fter a year of asking the party to put a guide to &riting reports on the Socialist Worker &eb site" I submitted my o&n guide &hich &as published in IB? in 4ovember ?>1?" but &hich attracted no response from the paper or the CC. It*s not 8ust that not enough comrades &rite reports. (oo many of the industrial reports sho& no sense of &ho their audience is -the &orkers involved" potential supporters" other &orkers &ho might face similar issues: and didn*t propose any net steps. It*s far more effective to argue &hat should happen up front. We might influence events" or if things go badly it at least makes our criticisms of the bureaucracy after&ards far more concrete and convincing.
Coping, Without the Politics
(here &as never a meaningful political debate about the changes to ho& &e used the paper" or ho& to fill the ya&ning organisational gap they left. Instead there has been a falsely polarised debate about improving the party*s central online presence. But in an ad+hoc &ay many comrades around the country have adopted a range of approaches to establish and build relationships &ith members and our periphery" these included=
2ing+rounds
Branch or district email #announcement' lists to send out leaflets etc
@mail discussion groups
Branch or district acebook groups or pages
Branch or district &eb sites
(et messages
acebook events
(&eetsSome of these are etremely effective for certain purposes. While a ring+round isn*t as good as a face+to+face conversation" it is a good second+best for many conversations" and is very time efficient by comparison.!o&ever" because &e never theorised &hat &e &ere doing" our use of these tools &as inconsistent and patchy. Whereas ?> years ago members &ould feel confident to politically argue &ith a ne& member &hy they should sell the paper or take part in contact visiting" our arguments for ring+rounds &ere much more practical -they &ork and less political" so &e &on fe&er comrades to taking part than &e should. olitical conviction and clarity about ho& doing something fits into the &ider political pro8ect helps comrades overcome lack of confidence.

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