The apparent unraveling of the Murdoch empire is causing concern far and wide, not least among those sections of the establishment which feel that they are all a bit exposed as a result. 

Max Hastings wrote in Saturday’s Daily Mail to that effect, in an article that echoed, from the other side of the chasm as it were, my own contribution on the subject, found on the site: <<>>

Much of the bourgeoisie is suddenly weary of looking at its reflection in the mirror and seeing Rupert Murdoch grinning back at them.

But what happens when a ruling elite, holding all the reins of power in its hands, finds itself discredited? 

Here is the enduring dialectic of threat and opportunity.

For exhibit A on the threat side, let me draw attention to the first post (pseudonymous as so often) in the comment box on the Daily Telegraph website underneath today’s main story on the News International crisis.  Here it is in full:

“Biggest question of all.
Large swathes of the media are corrupt.
A corrupt vein runs through the police force.
Government is poisoned with corrupt people.
Banks (alias gambling casinos) are greedy and corrupt.
The multi-million underclass living off benefits on permanent basis are corrupt.
How can UK finds its way back?
And if it does not, what’s the end game?”

Biggest question of all indeed.  Now here’s the thing –  I am sure that every reader of this site would have been nodding along at the first five lines of the post, and then suddenly drawn up with a sharp intake of breath at reaching the sixth and seventh, about the “underclass”.

After reading that, it is probably fair to assume that the “end game” which the anonymous poster has in mind would most likely be riding a populist backlash against official misbehaviour all the way to some form of right-wing authoritarianism which would sort out the “corrupt” of all classes.

I would also wager that the sentiments expressed are very widely shared throughout the country.

So what should the left say about this?  Perhaps one thing we should do is reflect on our language, and start to call things by the names mandated by socialism rather than reflecting populism.  That way we might have a chance to draw the line in the right place.

So let’s try that passage again, with one small change:

“Biggest question of all.
Large swathes of the media are capitalist.
A capitalist vein runs through the police force.
Government is poisoned by capitalism.
Banks (alias gambling casinos) are greedy and capitalist.
The multi-million underclass living off benefits
on permanent basis are capitalists.
How can UK finds its way back?
And if it does not, what’s the end game?”

It is straight away obvious that the critical lines six and seven are now ridiculous, and would be seen as such by almost everybody, while the rest of the post makes even more sense than it did before.  The focus has shifted from symptom to cause.

What is beyond doubt is that the left has to say something systemic about the disgrace the ruling class finds itself in, rather than simply echoing the broad, presently all-class, agitation against the Murdochs.

That is different from saying that the only answer is socialism.  A socialist revolution wants many of its prerequisites at the moment.  So support for democratic changes in control of the media is vital.  But nor can we be satisfied with judicial enquiries, or even a forced sale of Murdoch’s British media interests.  The movement against the abuse of media power is a broad, multi-class one at present.  Within it, the left’s purpose must be to raise the question of class power and control, lest it the movement be perverted into other channels.

It is certainly sobering to recall that in the late 1980s a considerable majority of the British media was in the hands of individuals (Robert Maxwell, Conrad Black) or firms (News International) which were not merely capitalist but actually criminal, transgressing even the relaxed boundaries capitalism sets for its favoured ones.  Most lines of business include a fairly slim margin of companies operating beyond the law.  Only media ownership, it seems, permits outright control of most of the industry by crooks.

We are not out of those woods yet.  One of our remaining press barons is Richard Desmond, who is not a crook but is a pornographer.  Under his control, the Daily Express is the most reactionary daily newspaper published in this country, with a special line in racist immigrant-baiting and Muslim hatred.  It is the repulsive belch of the Empire which, in happier times, found no firmer champion than its most famous proprietor Lord Beaverbrook.

Desmond apparently offered to buy the Sun from Murdoch a couple of years ago, and may now resume his interest.  If anyone could take the Sun further into the gutter, it would be him.  His line on race is actually far worse than Murdoch’s, while the presentation of women in his main line of business makes the Sun’s notorious page three girls seem like an invocation of a bygone age of innocence.

He is a man with a clear idea of how Britain “can find its way back”.  Racism, war, authoritarianism, all wrapped up in demagoguery:  an answer to the crisis of bourgeois leadership that leaves the bourgeoisie…leading, and in much the same direction as before.

Instead, let’s list the elements of the elite, all of which have brought disaster down upon the country and the world in the course of the century to date:  The party political leaders and many of their parliamentary supporters; the City of London’s vast financial interests, the police (especially the Met), MI6 (don’t forget Iraq), BP, British Aerospace Systems, News International and other elements of the mass media.

Of all these power centres, it is worth pointing out that only the first (politicians) can claim any sort of democratic mandate, however attenuated.  Ed Miliband has done well because he had the gumption to defy the Blairite assumptions which still cast their spell over most of the shadow cabinet and which called for a craven silence on all matters Murdoch ( a daring he will hopefully emulate on other issues going forward), while Gordon Brown’s intervention merely underlined the importance of Labour moving on from the “new Labour” calamity.

The rest – unelected, unaccountable – have shown in practice that they enjoy more than enough capacity to overwhelm those we are obliged to call our representatives should the latter display the faintest flicker of independence.  Breaking their power is something which, while falling short of socialism, would be a great improvement on our present condition, with a range of possibilities opening up beyond.

So what is the alternative?  It should be remembered that the people in Britain (as elsewhere) have given birth to a large range of organisations and institutions above and beyond the state.  Here are a few: the TUC and its affiliates, the Women’s Institute, the Royal British Legion, Mumsnet, Stop the War and CND,  Liberty, Neighborhood Watch(es), the Co-op, the Muslim Council of Britain, the National Farmers Union, the Federation of Small Businesses.  And a vast range besides, including those political organisations wholly or partially independent of the elite and the state.

This is certainly a heterogeneous and incomplete list.  Some people may well not approve of some of the organisations listed. But these are all bodies rooted in the organic development of society, and none of them have disgraced themselves through deceit, greed or corruption over the last decade. The list is indicates that there is nothing the ruling class and its state apparatus is doing for us that we could not do for ourselves if we took the power to do so.

Not to dwell on the point, this is a challenge that requires more than a judicial inquiry (even if the judiciary is not quite in the Met-MI6 doghouse at present). But it is the first challenge in more than thirty years which does not need to confront the corrupt and overbearing power of News International, and the first in 168 which will not have to worry about what the News of the World might say.  Still it moves…

July 15, 2011
Via 21stcenturymanifesto