Chris Harman


Making the connections

(29 March 2003)

In my view, Socialist Worker, No.1844, 29 March 2003.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Worker Website.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

“ONCE OUR boys are fighting, opposition to the war will virtually evaporate.” The Blairites, the Tories and the political commentators close to them all agreed on this after the parliamentary debate 10 days ago. A section of the left, believing the media are all-powerful, agreed. How wrong they were.

The mainstream media have been overwhelmingly pro-war. Daily papers supporting the war have a combined sale of 9.4 million, those showing some degree of opposition (the Guardian, the Mirror and the Independent) of 2.7 million. The main BBC and ITV channels hardly hide their pro-war bias. But this has not been able to dominate the ideas of a huge proportion of people over the war. The sustained level of opposition has stunned the Bush-Blair camp. How has this happened?

The disdain of those around Bush and Blair for the mass of people means they underestimate people’s ability to remember the recent past – in this case the way in which claims that previous wars would lead to peace and prosperity have turned to dust. Something else important has been involved.

People never listen to what the media or politicians say in a void. The Italian revolutionary Antonio Gramsci pointed out some 70 years ago, people accept or reject such things according to their own existing ways of thinking.

These are shaped by the groups they have grown up in or live and work among. They often include traditions which clash with some of the things the media and the politicians feed to them.

There always have been workers who strike and denounce strikebreakers as scabs. Yet no mainstream paper and politician has ever told them to think this. Such traditions are embodied in individuals who argue for them. In any workplace or locality there are such individuals. But putting up such resistance is difficult if you try to do it by yourself.

You can pick up useful arguments from the mainstream media or, these days, from websites. But few people have the time and energy left after a day’s work to scour papers and websites systematically. Successful resistance depends upon people establishing contacts and pooling resources – what are today sometimes called networks.

This is what the anti-war movement in Britain has built since the first meetings to set up the Stop the War Coalition days after 11 September 2001. The forces who could at the time see what Bush and Blair were up to were relatively small.

But the coalition was able to draw round it widening networks of supporters who conveyed arguments that appeared in books by Noam Chomsky, speeches by Tariq Ali or George Galloway, or articles in Socialist Worker, to much wider numbers.

Meetings and local groups of the coalition – and the sales of papers like this one – have created channels which get information to each individual battling to win arguments in the works canteen, the call centre, or even at the bus stop. The sheer size of the movement has, in turn, had an influence on sections of the media.

Part of the reason why papers like the Independent and the Mirror have come out against the war is because their editors have been able to persuade the giant companies that own them that it can pay in terms of circulation.

We have not yet broken the hold of the pro-war newspaper millionaires. But we have proved they are vulnerable. That is a small victory worth celebrating amidst the news of the horrifying carnage they support.

Last updated on 13 December 2009