Class War and the Media

An article from Class War issue 73 looking at Class War's populism and relationship to the mainstream media.

Class War has been criticised for being populist or even media whores. But what does 'populist' mean, apart from wanting our ideas to be popular, and aiming to make them that way? We've even been criticised for selling our paper: apparently it's a 'Trotskyist' tactic. But why produce a paper if you just want it to gather dust in someone's back room?

We do concede that there have been problems as well as advantages arising from our populist strategy and attitude to the media. One of the permanent problems of libertarian politics is that we are unable to measure the impact of our efforts. In authoritarian groups like the SWP success is measured almost purely on recruitment to the party or paper-sales. For the rest of us, the effects of our efforts are more hidden and there has often been a temptation to see our reflection in the media as a guide to our success: at times we ran the risk of getting a distorted view of what was really going on in the world.

It's easy to be seduced by the effect you can have on a naive and ignorant media. It can be a revelation to find out how stupid and lazy most journalists are, and by playing up to their prejudices you can get media attention with very little effort. Sometimes this can work out brilliantly. When a Class War member was interviewed on the news and called the Trafalgar Square anti-poll tax rioters "working class heroes" this struck a chord with many people.

But there is a danger of having campaigns that only consist of grabbing media attention. This can lead to a lack of credibility, when people see through the bullshit. Two examples prove the point in different ways. During Euro '96 Class War produced some stickers which were sent to the media with the name 'Class War Hooliganz' on them. The press picked up on them, but as the group never existed, before or after, they were seen as little more than a joke. On the other hand, after the 1996 Hyde Park anti-CJA riot the media reproduced our 'Keep It Spikey' leaflet, with tips on how to behave if the march turned into a riot: in effect, the Sun just reprinted and distributed four million copies of our leaflets. If 'Hooliganz' was a typical arse-about Class War media stunt, then 'Keep It Spikey' was its complete opposite - the publicity was a bonus but not the aim of the leaflet.

Meanwhile spare a thought for all those pen-pushing expense-account journalists: for years they've been able to blame us for every piece of trouble that's happened, reprinting the same old article about 'blood-thirsty bootboys' again and again. Hearing that Class War was coming to an end, one journalist recently phoned up our Hotline to complain. "How can you be dissolving??? You're the most successful group on the left!" she said. "If we're so successful," replied our telephonist, "how come you're still around?"