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I’d always been cynical about left magazines – their predictability, their alienatingly dogmatic vocabulary and the fact that they normally came with a subscription form to a political party. But this one was different. It featured an investigative piece on the (as yet unnamed) successor to Railtrack and a feminist take on US foreign policy. It profiled Labour against the war without being Labourist, and included a call for a more democratic and inclusive Stop the War movement. In short, it made me want to read more.
Two years on, I wrote my first article for the magazine, a small news item about the November 2003 European Social Forum (ESF) in Paris. I was still inspired by the slogan, which wasn’t then a cliché, that ‘another world is possible’. And while the reality of those forums was often messy, repetitive, and convoluted, they were also an inspirational space for practical networking, a place in which the fluidity of a ‘movement of movements’ touched the ground and became visible.
Red Pepper provided me with a monthly dose of reflections on war and global justice activism, as well as regular injections of thoughtful writing on participatory democracy, public services and civil liberties. I hope that it continues to provide those staples, as well as being fuelled by a radical pluralism, an ethics of how we can challenge and improve ourselves through encounters with others.
This has to be an active process, rather than assuming that a static set of interest groups should accommodate, or succumb to, each other’s worst prejudices. That doesn’t mean integration, in the sense of assimilation to one model of a dominant culture, but implies instead the need ‘to mix, to be selective, and to promote the critical mind’, as Tariq Ramadan – the influential Muslim scholar, told me in the aftermath of the 2005 London bombings, in an interview for my first issue as co-editor. The response to the recent attempted bombings in London and Glasgow was a forceful reminder that these lessons are still sorely needed.
Anti-war, global and pluralist: these were among the best traditions of Red Pepper as I found it. As we prepare to launch a new format, I trust that they will continue to provide a strong framework of values around which the magazine is oriented. But a magazine is not a bible, and nor is it manifesto.
Having principles shouldn’t mean predictability, or a comforting re-assurance of the left’s own rightness.
Red Pepper, like other left magazines, sometimes falls into these traps. That is something I hope we can improve upon – not in the sense of contrarianism or shock tactics, but in uncovering – through a variety of voices – the diversity of practices that give life to these principles. At the same time, we need to develop a serious analysis of the impediments to their being achieved – be they in the spheres of high politics, or in the politics of the everyday and the predominant mediums of culture.
Why do we need a magazine to do this? Well, for one reason, the bewildering array of information available today is no substitute for real knowledge: thoughtful, consistent and ‘situated’ reflections or reportage. The job of an editor – and of a magazine like Red Pepper – is to filter and help interpret. This can mean providing a level of detail about Iraq’s oil laws, Bolivia’s constitutional process or the situation of Yarl’s Wood inmates that it is hard to find in the mainstream press. But if these matters are under-reported, there are still other, well-worn stories whose implications become illegible under the ‘noise’ of media chatter.
For instance, the UN’s millennium development goals promise to halve the number of people without sustainable access to water and basic sanitation by 2015. Yet the private water companies promoted by the World Bank, IMF and regional development banks make just 900 new water connections per day – falling some way short of the 270,000 per day new connections needed to reach this goal. Or, to cite just one more example, the first round of the EU’s ‘cap and trade’ emissions trading scheme, which the British government advocates as a model for reducing climate change, has resulted in a windfall for polluting companies. The ‘caps’, meanwhile, were subject to so much corporate lobbying that they forced no emissions reductions at all.
These examples are not arbitarary. When it comes to reporting on trade and development issues, the best coverage is often in the business press and comes laden with pro-market assumptions that Red Pepper has a role in decoding. In the case of climate change, an explosion of coverage since we first launched our ‘Temperature Gauge’ column in May 2004 has yet to be matched by a proliferation of serious economic and political analysis of the proposed solutions.
The rush to biofuels (or what are better termed ‘agrofuels’) is only the latest example of this, where the promise of a new, greener fuel source is out of kilter with the actual environmental and economic impact. Recent studies have shown that the wave of fuel plantations across the global South is likely to accelerate climate change by intensifying the use of nitrous oxides, draining peatlands and deforestation. The impact on food prices is even more severe, and could lead to ‘hundreds of thousands’ dying from hunger, according to Jean Ziegler, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food.
The EU is central to this expansion, as it is to much of the trade and investment policymaking that gives globalisation its ‘bite’. Yet its impact, whether internationally or domestically, is often downplayed. The British left often finds it easier to lob bricks at the US than unpick the barriers to genuine human development that the EU is building in the world. In fact, there remains a stark absence of good, critical journalism about the EU across the whole political spectrum.
A report by the German ministry of justice found that, between 1998 and 2004, around 80 per cent of the 23,167 legislative acts adopted in Germany originated at EU level. And while the proportion differs from country to country, the figure is well over half in every EU state, including the UK. Yet for all its headline ‘Euro-scepticism’, the British press does little to report on these processes, or reflect upon the fact that the obscure, inter-governmental processes and behind-the-scenes dealings that result in these laws are hollowing-out our democracy. This is not a matter of being anti-Europe, but of recognising the centrality of the EU to politics and the economy, and debating more fully the kind of Europe that we want. Red Pepper can play a modest role here, as it can in reporting upon the political, economic and cultural contexts of the new forms of political action that are emerging elsewhere on the continent.
Alongside these good intentions comes an admission. I have generally found our cultural coverage lacking. As we have discussed ways to improve the magazine, and sought feedback on it, I find that I’m not alone. Too often, we can get caught in a trap of what one contributor called the Fishing News approach to culture. Sent off to review the latest Hollywood blockbusters, that paper’s fictitious correspondent consistently bemoans the lack of plotlines about fishing.
In creating a more readable publication, we aim to break with this approach and give far more scope to covering the vibrant arts scene that currently passes beneath the radar of all but the specialist publications in music, theatre and visual arts. We’ll also try to provide far better critical reflections on trends in popular culture, whether those involve the next generation of web TV or the re-politicisation of hip-hop. We may even have the odd article about fishing.
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi