Another magazine is possible

My first copy of Red Pepper was sold to me at a political meeting about the Afghan war in December 2001, writes Oscar Reyes

August 1, 2007
7 min read


Oscar ReyesOscar Reyes is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and is based in Barcelona. He was formerly an editor of Red Pepper. He tweets at @_oscar_reyes

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.


Oscar ReyesOscar Reyes is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and is based in Barcelona. He was formerly an editor of Red Pepper. He tweets at @_oscar_reyes


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility

Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices

How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed

In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design

Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform

Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out

Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.