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As the Crow fliers (or not)

June 23, 2009

Loathe as I am to simply tag along with Owen (again), he is (unfortunately) quite right about this on Bob Crow, the RMT rail union’s general secretary:

Crow is, however, a fine example of the sheer uselessness of the British left in terms of actual propaganda, in terms of convincing the majority of people who know little about the significance of 1984, let alone 1926; and in short the refusal to make intelligent use of old media, let alone new. You could see this in the RMT-led No2EU coalition, with its staggeringly inept party political broadcast and its misbegotten pandering to Euroscepticism (especially bizarre in the context of Crow’s impeccable internationalism) and in the publicity disaster that occurs with every single tube strike, leading to the bizarre consequence that, instead of setting an example of successful organisation, inspiring other workers to take similar action, the RMT instead always seems to be out on its own – and commuters who are as hostile to privatisation as the union are ignored rather than convinced.

In the case of the RMT, this is a by-product of a kind of syndicalist politics: of themselves, as well-organised, skilled and vital workers able to use their own strengths to win concessions, irrespective of the general political mood and political organisations. It’s not quite no-one like us, we don’t care – Millwall FC’s slogan, obligatorily referred to in profiles of Crow, who is an infamous fan – but it doesn’t incline its practicioners to get out there and make new friends as a priority.

But it also fits into a jaw-drapping technophobia on the British left. The ghost of Ned Ludd still walks amongst us, waving Enoch’s hammer and frightening erstwhile revolutionaries into flinging holy water at computers and frantically reciting spells to ward off teh evil internets.

At a time when every protestor, striker, and insurgent from Total to Tehran is using mobile phones, blogs, Twitter and the whole spectrum of electronic communications to dramatic effect, why must the would-be vanguard remain trapped with only 20th century technologies: the leaflet, the paper, the pamphlet?

As The Lenosphere IT Collective demonstrate, in a series of helpful guides for activists, it’s not difficult to get new technology working for the movement. The problem, in the end, is political: an unwitting conservatism on the left, the legacy of two decades of defeat.

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