Is anarchist media in Britain doing enough to promote struggle and radical ideas? How could we be doing things differently? A look at the French Mutu Network can provide ideas about how to create a radical media rooted in our communities and struggles for a better world.
The seriousness of our times hardly needs restating. In contrast to the temporary “tightening of belts” we were promised, we’re now over a decade into what is increasingly being understood as a permanent austerity that the ruling class wanted all along, while Britain’s biggest far-right demonstrations since the 1930s combine with Tory overtures towards overt white nationalists.
Yet on the other side, while the rise of Corbyn channelled energy away from the post-crisis student and anti-austerity movements into reanimating the corpse of social democracy, increasing dissatisfaction with Corbynism — and its promise of better-funded borders, increased police numbers, etc. — means that a return to extra-parliamentary working-class politics seems not just necessary, but inevitable.
The issue, then, will be how to create the infrastructure which can bring together these existing pockets of grassroots organising into a movement really capable of changing the world.
Notes from a dying media
Even in these difficult times for libertarian radicals, there are numerous examples of local groups waging class struggle. But these struggles are often poorly promoted, relying on already over-stretched groups to publicise them via an array of blogs and social media platforms. In bigger towns and cities, protests and actions fail to attract the numbers they could, partly because people don’t know about them. And there exists an over-reliance on social media to promote our activities, rendering pages redundant (and therefore also the archive of content on them) as social media usage shifts from one platform to another.
All this has taken place in the vacuum created by the collapse of numerous anarchist publications. Arguably however the disappearance which had the biggest material effect on grassroots activism in Britain was the collapse of an online outlet, Indymedia.
For all its faults, Indymedia, with its slogan “Don’t hate the media, be the media,” functioned as a crucial hub which held various activist movements together from 1999 to the mid-2010s with sites across the country. As the anti-globalisation movement from which it had emerged started to ebb away however Indymedia went into free fall. The open publishing nature which had allowed anybody to take part, write up action reports and publicise events, proved also to be its weakness as conspiracy theorists and anti-Semites began posting whatever they liked.
It was partly in reaction to these drawbacks that we launched what eventually became libcom.org. We felt there was a need to have an editorial collective able to stop reactionary content being posted to activist websites and maintain a clearer commitment to everyday class struggle within anti-authoritarian politics.
Ultimately, while our theory and history archives succeeded in this goal, our news coverage (with the exception of specific struggles like France’s anti-CPE movement or the Visteon occupation) remained patchy.
Our aim of covering every working-class struggle everywhere in the world was, in the end, a tad too broad for our small collective. Though we had lots of good individual articles, we failed at producing a news resource which consistently covered — and was used by — collective social movements.
The task, then, for building radical media infrastructure is in finding a way to marry these diverging elements: open publishing with editorial checks; a specific remit within which individual articles can reflect and feed into wider movements.
Mutu’s model: transforming radical media
In May 2018, we attended a conference of the Mutu network in France, a network of local radical media websites which operate much like Indymedia did, but with a completely transparent editorial process.
We were blown away to discover how each of these sites, many we hadn’t even heard of, were acting as hubs for the various social movements taking place in cities and regions across France, focusing on local struggles and issues. With this focus, they became places where people went to find out about social conflicts when they broke out. But as we listened to descriptions of these sites connecting with groups of striking workers or occupying students, we also realised they function to draw together the various struggles within a given locality into a multi-faceted working-class movement.
Map showing the extent of the Mutu network
Each Mutu website (there are 15 at the time of writing) is run by an editorial collective aiming to be representative of anti-authoritarian tendencies in their areas. In France this typically involves a mixture of Tiqqunists*, anarcho-communists, green anarchists and insurrectionaries and varied from place to place.
When we argued that nothing so multi-tendency would work in the UK we were told the same thing was said about Paris: “Everyone in Paris hates each other.” Today Paris Luttes is the most popular site in the network with 10,000-25,000 readers a day.
The network is committed to participatory publishing: like Indymedia, anybody can submit an article or add an event to listings, but everything has to go through an editorial process before it goes live on the site, with typically two or three editors’ approval needed before something can appear. But this editorial process is completely transparent and visible to all logged in users. If an article is rejected or changes need to be made, users can see why.
By using this approach, Mutu has essentially fixed what was Indymedia’s problem with reactionary content, while remaining true to the ethos of open publishing. Moreover, it has turned radical media from something produced by overworked media collectives into a resource which can be used by radical groups and social movements.
Being our own media
A Mutu-style network in the UK would be a massive boost for anti-authoritarian politics at a time when we really need one. Website collectives in every major town and city could act as vital infrastructure for local struggles while also serving as an entry point to radical politics which we’re sorely lacking. Rather than having to navigate various blogs and social media accounts to find out about local activity, there could be a central resource for people interested in their area’s social movements.
The way the sites would operate, with self-organised collectives transparently editing content anybody could submit, would be a practical example of how our politics can work. And by working together to publicise our activity, we can begin to build a unity based around the various struggles we’re involved in, from workplace and housing activism to migrant solidarity and anti-fascism, saving services for domestic violence survivors to stopping fracking.
To create such a network, we need to start by forming local editorial collectives. If you want to start one, contact existing groups in your area and see who wants to be involved, post on social media and forums to find people nearby to collaborate with. When you’ve got enough, call a meeting and get your collective launched.
Most of the work done by the collectives will be editorial, such as editing articles or making decisions on what to publish; not everyone needs to have an in-depth knowledge of how to set up websites. The Mutu network use the same code for all their sites so they can share technical support across the network; we could do something similar quite easily with a small tech collective supporting multiple sites.
Once multiple collectives and websites are set up, we can begin to talk about networking. Experience tells us we shouldn’t spend too much time thinking about how we network until we have the local collectives to network in the first place. This must be built from the bottom up; it may take time, but the result will be vital infrastructure for a radical working-class movement and a radical media that is not simply the produce of overworked media collectives, but a tool we can all use in the struggle for a better world.
E & J
Interested in starting a new network of anti-authoritarian local news sites? Email towardsafreshradicalmedia at riseup.net
UK anarchist media highlights
Anarchists in Britain have had some notable media moments over the years. Here are a few of its hits:
Ian Bone vs ‘the Swansea Mafia’
In the 1970s, Class War founder Ian Bone took on corrupt Labour politicians running Swansea council. Bone researched their shady dealings in council minutes and at Companies House, wrote an anonymous 20-page pamphlet exposing the corruption and had 5,000 copies printed, which were pushed through letterboxes on housing estates in the dead of night. The council leader and his crony deputy were subsequently jailed.
Deterritorial Support Group vs Johann Hari
Johann Hari was a prominent liberal newspaper columnist until 2011 when the ultra-left propaganda machine Deterritorial Support Group (DSG) revealed Hari had plagiarised passages from an ‘interview’ with Italian radical, Antonio Negri. Hari lost his job as a columnist with The Independent newspaper and had to return his Orwell Prize.
The War Commentary trial
Four anarchists from Freedom Press were put on trial in 1945 for their involvement in producing War Commentary, the precursor to this iteration of Freedom. The four were accused of having ‘… conspired together and with other persons unknown to endeavour to seduce from their duty persons in His Majesty’s Service and to cause among such persons disaffection likely to lead to breaches of their duty.’ They were found guilty and three were jailed. The trial caused uproar in what was seen as an attack on freedom of expression.
Spies for Peace
Secret government plans for nuclear warfare were exposed in 1963 by the Spies for Peace, who broke into a secret bunker and photographed files revealing the plans. The information gathered was published in a pamphlet of which 4,000 copies were printed and distributed to the press and activists. One of the Spies for Peace was notable former Freedom contributor Nicholas Walter.
* Tiqqun is the name of both an influential French philosophical journal and its associated ideas, which draws from the Hebrew concept of social responsibility known as tikkun olam, prioritising social redemption, reparation and justice.
Pic: Henry Langston
This article first appeared in the Summer issue of Freedom Journal