So far, I haven’t really written much about the ongoing News International meltdown. This is partly just because things are moving so fast I have difficulty keeping track of it, but it’s also because there seems to be a key ingredient missing. As satisfying as it is to see various ruling-class scumbags arrested, forced to resign or hauled before parliament for a grilling, I can’t help noticing the lack of an active, independent presence from outside the existing power structures. Those of us who aren’t at the top still mostly seem to be passive spectators to what’s going on, not active participants.
If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…
In Russia during Stalin’s purges, the ruling elite of Communist Party bureaucrats had to hold on to the myth that they were living in a classless society where no-one had any special privileges, and so the frequent killings of individual bureaucrats enabled the bureaucracy as a whole to carry on ruling. The situation may be a bit less bloody, but a similar logic exists today: to hold on to their power, the tiny close-knit elite running the country have to pretend that they don’t exist, and so they’ll sacrifice any number of individuals for the good of the group. One way things could start to really get interesting is if some of these “bad apples” start refusing to be sacrificed, and open an all-out war against other sections of the elite. The Sun’s decision to go on the attack against Gordon Brown and the Guardian could indicate that some elements within News International aren’t prepared to go quietly, but instead want to cause as much damage as possible to their enemies. If this happens, the scandal could become even more difficult to contain, as the relatively successful damage limitation strategy of sacrificing individuals to save institutions collapses into a war of all against all.
What about us?
As far as I can work out, there’s two main ways I can imagine independent voices from below entering into the conversation: a mass outpouring of popular resentment against the whole establishment in the manner of the Spanish and Greek assemblies, or class struggle erupting within News International as those at the bottom of Murdoch’s empire fight back against his attempts to make them pay for his crisis. As glorious as the first option would be, I’m not convinced we’re likely to see it any time soon – if it didn’t happen as a result of the first few shocks, I can’t see the 263rd revelation, or whatever we’re up to now, being the one that breaks the camel’s back. As for the possibility of a fightback by News International workers, anarchist journalist Rob Ray’s written an interesting piece about the complexities of solidarity with people doing disgustingly reactionary jobs. I’d tend to agree that, while the idea of working for Murdoch might seem personally distasteful, we don’t offer solidarity on the basis that we think other workers are always necessary lovely people, but because it builds our own collective strength and hurts our enemies. And on that note, a few recent moments of struggle from below: local residents in Toxteth managed to stop a demolition, a website’s been set up to help support the UK’s most recent antifascist prisoners, migrant cleaners organised in the IWW have gone on a strike and won in London, 109 of the Fortnum and Mason’s defendants have had their charges dropped, and Southampton council workers continue to resist their employers’ attacks. These stories may seem less dramatic than the constant flow of new details about corruption among the great and good, but they’re stories that people like us are actively involved in writing, not just watching and being shocked by, and that’s important.