Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
In one sense yesterday’s Netroots UK conference couldn’t have come at a better time. The student protests and the impressive UKUncut actions against tax avoiders have demonstrated how social media can help groups to organise and campaign with a spontaneity and immediacy rarely achieved through the formal hierarchies of the traditional left.
Yet if the event was all about the possibilities of 21st Century digital technologies for a new wave of radical activism, then the presence of plenary speakers representing organisations such as the The Guardian, the Fabian Society and the Trades Union Congress showed that institutions whose politics were first shaped in the late 19th century are still exerting a certain authority.
This points to a central contradiction in the Netroots UK project, modelled as it is on the Networks Nation in the US (which lined up online activists both Democrat and non-aligned – behind Obama’s bid for the Presidency). So, too, elements behind the UK version are clearly looking to harness the energy, enthusiasm and know-how of young activists in order to legitimise the Labour party’s claim to lead the anti-cuts struggle, while at the same time bestowing official recognition only of those elements that agree to confine their politics within the limits of middle-class respectability.
But it is clear that even amongst yesterday’s attendees (still more of the wider layers of young activists who didn’t opt to spend their Saturday mornings listening to Polly Toynbee), many web-savvy campaigners have little desire to define their efforts according to the priorities of re-electing a largely unreconstructed Labour party. And while there are some signs that Labour is recognising that it’s old “command-and-control” model of organising is not workable in the digital age, its present party structures have little attraction for many young people. Indeed, it is precisely as a consequence of frustration with the unresponsive and unaccountable channels of formal politics and its associated media discourse that these new forms of communication, information and organisation are developing.
There is still an active debate about the extent to which today’s activists are aiming to exert influence over established political figures and the mainstream media, or whether their aim is to bypass institutionally conservative interests and appeal directly to their peers. So while some participants are clearly aspiring to be the bloggers-de-jour of the liberal media and establish their own profile as “the voice” of the new generation (like latter-day Danny Cohn-Bendits), others – such as the UCL student occupiers – were raising more radical questions about how ‘horizontal’ methods of organising are still susceptible to the de-facto manipulation by self-appointed leaderships. Conspicuous by their absence were the established groups of the traditional far left, which seems to retain a residual suspicion of the internal democratic logic of the digital media. But with trade union involvement (predictably given the venue) largely confined to a layer of professional officials, discussion about low level self-organising in workplaces and communities found it harder to compete with the larger institutional players 38 Degrees, Avaaz.org and Blue State Digital.
The risk here is that mass e-mobilisations take a lowest-common-denominator approach to political messaging which threatens to soften the more radical edge of campaigns, resulting in a bland, amorphous liberalism. Yet if NetrootsUK was rather too quick to gloss over real political differences, it did nevertheless indicate that an important new front is opening up in a broader social struggle. Whether the new forms of organisation made possible by digital technology will be able to emerge or whether established interests will ensure that new wine is poured back into old bottles, will be put decisively to the test as the anti-cuts struggles develop.
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
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
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
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
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook
‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali
Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.
Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent
Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art
Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs
Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox
Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite