Revolutionary Journalist Hall of Fame

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Jun 5 2010 23:59
Revolutionary Journalist Hall of Fame

Increasingly I think journalism is the best avenue in which I can do my small part for the Left. I'd like to compile a list of revolutionary journalists here, of those who didn't simply write the "rough draft of history" but created works of lasting importance.

I'll begin with George Orwell and John Reed.

Orwell

Reed

Who else belongs on a list of the greatest revolutionary journalists? I'd like to read their work for the sake of inspiration.

Boris Badenov
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Jun 6 2010 00:14
Hughes wrote:
I can do my small part for the Left

By that standard anyone who writes for The Nation is a "revolutionary journalist."

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Jun 6 2010 00:21
Vlad336 wrote:
Hughes wrote:
I can do my small part for the Left

By that standard anyone who writes for The Nation is a "revolutionary journalist."

Not sure exactly what you're saying. I'm not suggesting I'm a "revolutionary journalist." Not by a long shot. But its something to aspire to.

Is it this you're criticizing, or the notion that Orwell and Reed were revolutionary journalists?

Boris Badenov
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Jun 6 2010 00:29

I was just wondering what you mean by "the Left" and "doing your small part for it." If you mean advancing the politics of some parliamentary left-wing party (like Orwell did in his ILP days), then no, I don't think that counts as "revolutionary" by any plausible definition of the word.

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Jun 6 2010 00:40
Vlad336 wrote:
I was just wondering what you mean by "the Left" and "doing your small part for it." If you mean advancing the politics of some parliamentary left-wing party (like Orwell did in his ILP days), then no, I don't think that counts as "revolutionary" by any plausible definition of the word.

Can you please get over yourself?

Revolutionary one-upmanship is just about the most boring game imaginable. Not only that, it does less than nothing--it discourages the uninitiated from involvement in socialist politics.

Boris Badenov
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Jun 6 2010 00:43
Hughes wrote:
Revolutionary one-upmanship bla bla

Nice way of avoiding the question, but alright, whatever.

Boris Badenov
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Jun 6 2010 00:49

On topic, I'll go with Ethel Macdonald. Amazing woman.

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Jun 6 2010 01:20

Interesting. I'll have to check her out. Its too bad all the pictures so far are in black and white. Is there any fresher blood?

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Jun 6 2010 01:49

I think that Vlad raises an important point. Hughes, whenever "the board" gets to a point of making a distinction between "The Left" (Maoism, third-worldism, parliamentary politics, etc) and revolutionary politics, you either dismiss it as "one-upmanship" or avoid the question. I think that these are important categories to recognize if we are going to have a clear an meaningful conversation on really anything. Don't you agree?

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Jun 6 2010 02:26

Yes Hughes, I think this is something worth engaging with if you want to have meaningful discussion with people on this board, as it keeps coming up on most of the topics you've posted. People aren't critiquing 'The Left' as part of a revolutionary cock-waving contest - rather the criticism is part of a particular understanding of the dynamics operating in this world, and where possibilities of radical, meaningful change can come from. On another thread jesuithitsquad suggested that you take a look at Eclipse and Re-emergence of the Communist Movement. I will again recommend it, as gives a very clear exposition of the perspective many here are coming from and should help you understand what they are getting at in their criticisms.

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Jun 6 2010 08:50

Is Egon Erwin Kisch known to you guys in the English-speaking West? (Or perhaps to the comrades down under?) The "raging reporter" is definitely my favorite communist journalist, not as much for the politics as for the style. Fortunately he died soon enough (1948) and didn't become a Stalinist apparatchik he probably would have otherwise.

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Jun 6 2010 08:23

"Revolutionary journalism" is an oxymoron, like Police Intelligence.

But Orwell and Reed were amongst the best - they risked their lives in what at that time were revolutionary struggles (Reed in Mexico - see "Insurgent Mexico", Orwell in Spain). To dismiss Orwell for supporting the ILP, as Vlad does, is to see things purely by hindsight: in its day, many members of the ILP were the most radical of the old workers' movement. See, for instance, Jack Common http://libcom.org/library/jack-common-selected-articles, who was a member of the ILP, not just a supporter, as Orwell was; and he's far superior to Orwell - nothing at all journalistic about him. Althught he ILP were an eclectic bunch (much like most of the anarcho groups today) it at least supported the POUM, who were one of the more radical groups in Spain, the partial hangovers of Trotskyism notwithstanding, and there were very few in the UK who did that.

Orwell is very criticisable - notably for his social democratic perspective which led him, for instance, to oppose the dockers' strikes of 1945 against the Atlee government, and to denounce pacifist, and other, anarchists who opposed WWII as "objectively supporting Hitler" (or somesuch phrase - see The Lion and the Unicorn) but his Homage to Catalonia and lots of his other stuff are brilliant, but not anything like what we'd call even "radical" journalism nowdays (his insights into some aspects of leftism were incomparable ; the liberal-lefty Pilger who sometimes calls himself an anarchist, has nothing on him). But to aspire to be a "revolutionary journalist" makes no sense in the post-60s epoch: it's aspiring to be a recuperator.

gypsy
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Jun 6 2010 10:16

Weeler

admin - no real names

gypsy
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Jun 6 2010 10:18
Vlad336 wrote:
On topic, I'll go with Ethel Macdonald. Amazing woman.

I second that.

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Jun 6 2010 10:26
Samotnaf wrote:
"Revolutionary journalism" is an oxymoron, like Police Intelligence.

Why?

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But to aspire to be a "revolutionary journalist" makes no sense in the post-60s epoch: it's aspiring to be a recuperator.

All these one-liners are well and good, but it would be nice if you could explain yourself.

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Jun 6 2010 10:40

@ Spaßmaschine and Tarwater

I define the Left in the broad, anti-capitalist sense. Those who seek the democratic control of the means of production and distribution are friends of mine. Any division further than that, at this point in time, strikes me as a needless sectarianism that is so low on the list of my political priorities its not even funny.

EDIT: I mean seriously, there are so many atrocious things going on in the world don't you have something better to do than police who's "Left" and who's not?

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Jun 6 2010 10:51

My view is that there's never going to be a mass anti-capitalist movement which doesn't hold a big tent philosophy. Ideological intolerance leads to small, self-satisfied groups which have no effect on the real world.

no1
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Jun 6 2010 10:58
Hughes wrote:
I define the Left in the broad, anti-capitalist sense. Those who seek the democratic control of the means of production and distribution are friends of mine. Any division further than that, at this point in time, strikes me as a needless sectarianism that is so low on the list of my political priorities its not even funny.

Then you have a rather eclectic definition of The Left. Most of the left seeks to capture state power, either through bourgeois democracy (social-democrats) or in a revolutionary situation (leninists), and are vehemently opposed to democratic control of the means of production because they are in favour of capitalism, either in a capitalist mixed economy with a bit of redistribution of wealth (social-democrats) or state capitalism (leninists).

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Jun 6 2010 11:30
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I define the Left in the broad, anti-capitalist sense. Those who seek the democratic control of the means of production and distribution are friends of mine. Any division further than that, at this point in time, strikes me as a needless sectarianism that is so low on the list of my political priorities its not even funny.

I agree with no1 on this and would like to add that it's not merely a question of what our vision of a communist utopia is like, it's a question of tactics in the here-and-now. For instance, I think standing in elections, trying to capture full-time union positions, setting up ethical businesses etc are a dead end. Others on the left make it the centre of their politics.

You can't just gloss over it or charicature it as having nothing "better to do than police who's "Left" and who's not".. seriously, it takes as long to do as you thinking you disagree with someone, hardly a barrier to going out and doing practical organising..

Quote:
My view is that there's never going to be a mass anti-capitalist movement which doesn't hold a big tent philosophy. Ideological intolerance leads to small, self-satisfied groups which have no effect on the real world.

My view is that the working class are the ones that will make up any mass anti-capitalist movement to change the world and so will obviously have differing ideas within it. This isn't the same as a 'big tent' though, its just a fact of life that big groups of people won't have the same ideas. But that doesn't mean all lefties should form a big umbrella group of left Labour Party MPs, Maoists, anarcho-syndicalists, Trotskyists and left communists.

The working class is more than just the sum of all the groups on the left. Radical change will be brought about by people, most of whom will probably never have even been part of a left-wing organisation.

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Jun 6 2010 11:33

I raise you a Peter Fryer.

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Jun 6 2010 11:38

And to bring us back on topic, I think the point being made about 'revolutionary journalism' is that it's not by doing jobs that we act 'revolutionary'. When I worked in a school, I might have taught the pupils things that were obviously in line with my way of thinking but that didn't make me a 'revolutionary teaching assistant'. What makes a worker 'radical' or 'revolutionary' or whatever you want to call it, is when they refuse their job and organise collective action to move power from the bosses to the workers..

Not that you shouldn't be a journo coz its 'not revolutionary' (no jobs are), just that its not in doing a job in a certain way that will change much..

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Jun 6 2010 12:01

Ignore samotnaf Hughes, he talks a lot of broad-brush shit about journalists despite having been completely unable to back up his view that all journos are one-dimensional capitalist lackeys when asked.

"Revolutionary" journalism is not quite the same thing as revolutionary people a lot of the time btw, Greg Palast, John Pilger and Seymour Hersch as modern writers have all been exceptional in terms of exposing corporate and state malpractice and indeed in raising aspects of class consciousness, but would all fall into the social democratic camp in terms of personal politics.

One important thing to note about radical journalism though, it doesn't pay well! Serious investigative work is a pain in the arse to get funded, particularly now, so it might be an idea to aim for skills in other areas and do that sort of thing on a freelance basis in your spare time. If you're interested though there's a few papers and magazines where you can start out unpaid, the ones I work with atm are Black Flag and Freedom, PM me if you fancy a chat about them.

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Jun 6 2010 12:11

Oh, I know its a non-paying gig, in general. I'd just do it on the side.

Boris Badenov
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Jun 6 2010 14:41
Samotnaf wrote:
To dismiss Orwell for supporting the ILP, as Vlad does, is to see things purely by hindsight: in its day, many members of the ILP were the most radical of the old workers' movement.

You misunderstood; I am definitely not dismissing Orwell for supporting the ILP, but Orwell's journalism/reporting was never limited to toeing the party line, which is what made it great ultimately (see his criticism of the Left in Road to Wigan Pier). Ditto on Jack Common.
If Orwell had simply stuck to doing his small part for the Left instead of having the courage to write exactly what he witnessed, he would be irrelevant yes. But that is not the case. So mentioning Orwell in this thread almost goes against Hughes' stated intention of being a respectable leftist journo, as far as I see, which is why I asked him to clarify his intentions.

Samotnaf
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Jun 6 2010 16:05

Rob Ray:

Quote:
Ignore samotnaf Hughes, he talks a lot of broad-brush shit about journalists despite having been completely unable to back up his view that all journos are one-dimensional capitalist lackeys when asked.

Ignore Rob ray - he talks a lot of liberal shit about journalism being a question of just reporting the facts - which proves that his journalism is certainly one-dimensional (though capitalist "lackey" is his phrase, not mine). See the Greece thread i started in Januaryhttp://libcom.org/forums/news/greece-reflections-some-contradictions-movement-there-10012010, effectively driven off the rails by his liberal bollocks (though I admit, I gave up too easily - his arrogance, rightly criticised by taxikipai, just seemed too silly to bother to comment on). Facts are always selected according to a point of view - if you are explicitly revolutionary - ie want to struggle for the abolition of the commodity economy - you're unlikely to be hired as a journalist, or if you are, you are not going to be allowed to put your anti-commodity point of view in your journalism; you can certainly report some anomalies in the system, but to question it fundamentally will get you the sack. It would require questioning the division of labour of which journalism is the intellectual part.
I know an ex-journalist who used to write "radical" reports on the latest anarcho- thingies in the area i live for a CP journal; all his radical friends persistently took the piss out of his journalistic role. Eventually he gave it up, burnt a car after the first round of the 2007 election in France, got caught and ended up in jail for a couple of months - not something most journalists do (or even ex-journos). Not saying you have to burn a car to prove your radicality, but giving up journalism, or at least not pretending you can be a journalist and be a radical journalist, is the beginning of subversive intelligence. As Ed says:

Quote:
I think the point being made about 'revolutionary journalism' is that it's not by doing jobs that we act 'revolutionary'. When I worked in a school, I might have taught the pupils things that were obviously in line with my way of thinking but that didn't make me a 'revolutionary teaching assistant'. What makes a worker 'radical' or 'revolutionary' or whatever you want to call it, is when they refuse their job and organise collective action to move power from the bosses to the workers.

Not that you shouldn't be a journo coz its 'not revolutionary' (no jobs are), just that its not in doing a job in a certain way that will change much.

You can be radical and a journalist - a journalist with no or very little ideological content - say someone who writes about the local village fete, a tennis match or the weather or some such banality, but being a radical journalist is like being a radical plasterer who only does anarcho "A"s in a circle on the ceilings of living rooms. Plasterers can be radical but not as part of their work; the same goes for writers etc. Naomi Klein, for example, might be interesting, but then there are right-wingers who, in their elucidation of State capitalist regimes in the past, used also to be interesting. That didn't mean they weren't to be opposed. Revolutionary theory begins where careers end. And the mentality involved in being a journalist, unless you're very self-aware, can make you fetishise writing as something radical in itself.

Re. Peter Fryer - he got the sack from his Left-wing State capitalist bosses (Hughes please note: being a Leftist can be just as bad as being a Rightist) for his radical attacks on the Russian invasion of Hungary. Did he take up journalism with another paper other than the Daily Worker after that?

Vlad - fair enough - I misunderstood.

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Jun 6 2010 16:56

Yeah you did give up on that one rather quickly Samotnaf, you also gave up on this one, and never even bothered replying when I pointed out your self-serving snideness in this thread. Apparently you have something of a habit of sniping without much substance?

I do find it hilarious though that you accuse me of being a liberal for not immediately buying into the line of someone whose analysis appears to stem mostly from an uncritical reading of Chomsky married to some personal anecdotes.

Yes, congratulations, it's entirely true that, as I had already pointed out above, it's quite difficult to get radical journalism into the mainstream press and get paid. Hence my suggestion that he might want alternative work to pay his daily expenses.

However as I also pointed out it's not impossible, and the ironic thing is that much of your understanding of the world outside of where you actually live will come from those journalists who do buck the trend and come up with genuine investigative pieces which help force buried agendas into the open.

The best of the Deepwater Horizon information comes from... journalists. The investigations into torture in Iraq came from... journalists. The exposure of many of Rio Tinto's worst mining practices... journalists. I could go on almost indefinitely. That doesn't mean that journalism as an industry isn't in large part a load of fucked up propagandising, but your approach of 'fuck the lot of them' is, I repeat, one dimensional.

Btw if we're talking arrogance here, saying "I'm right despite hundreds of years of evidence and I refuse to argue my case because I'm sooo obviously right that I can't be bothered" outclasses me by a long, long way.

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Jun 6 2010 19:15

I don't think any of the revolutionary opposition to this society, at least since the 50s (Peter Fryer being the last one who had a truly radical effect), has been inspired by "radical" journos - the miners' strike? the poll tax riots? the '81 riots? May '68? the South African revolution? etc. etc. Nor have I or anyone else i know been influenced by journos to oppose this society - but a lot of people have been inspired by revelations about rio tinto zinc, torture in Iraq etc. into becoming good lefty liberals or whatever. But then good lefty liberalism is what you take for radicality.

Your comment on Chomsky makes no sense whatsoever - unless it's some kind of strange wind-up (but I don't think so); Chomsky has influenced me hardly at all, and I doubt if he could. And if you'd read my comments on him, you'd know that. My theoretical influences were Solidarity and then the Situationists, and then situ-influenced critics of the SI (Denevert, Jeanne Charles, Nadine Bloch, Cornuault, Chris Shutes); plus Marx and Bakunin, Korsch, Mattick etc.; plus loads of different individuals I've met thoughout my life. Not that you give a toss.

And what are the "hundreds of years of evidence"? And does it have any relevance to what i said about journalism since the 60s?

Your defence of the limitations of taxikipali's reports and against my criticisms, is a defence of something, post May 5th, that taxikipali himself accepted, very honestly and without the slightest arrogance, was wrong - that the discussion about violence was as essential as reporting the facts about it, a position you are completely retrograde in defending. But you are incapable of facing yourself at all, your determined-not-to-be-influenced petrified how-dare-you self-satisfaction. Your anger in defence of your sad position in this society is the opposite of the anger that explodes against this society.

You are clearly upset by my comments. Good - you should be.

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Jun 6 2010 19:32

@_@

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Jun 6 2010 19:39

Anyway, a couple of things I have read by Pilger have been quite interesting, even if I don't regard him as a revolutionary. One was on something he wrote on Nicaragua. I also like John Reed, and I admit I cried a little when in the film Reds he gave his little speech in front of the striking workers. embarrassed

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Jun 6 2010 19:41

Actually, I think it was a chapter in Hidden Agendas.

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Jun 6 2010 19:49

Sure, why not ruin a potentially interesting thread in history and culture that I could have actually learned something new from with a rehash of the discussion on intellectuals?