Why we must intervene and compete with the capitalist media

Holly Rigby reports from the launch of a new radical media project in Scotland

June 18, 2013
5 min read

communique skillshare poster

Radical and independent media platforms have flourished in recent years; however these are often produced by the movement, for the movement, and can have limited impact on wider public consciousness.

If we are to have a strong anti-capitalist movement, we must seriously compete with the existing institutions of the capitalist class – mass media, corporate advertising and social networks – finding new ways to communicate our narratives in a fresh and relevant fashion.

Communique is a new media project launched by the International Socialist Group in Scotland, which is attempting to redefine radical media practise as the heart of a strategy for new left renewal.

It recognises that in addition to creating our own independent media platforms, we must be highly-skilled at seizing existing media and social networks to our own advantage.

In order to develop these skills amongst activists, Communique recently held its first ‘Skillshare’ event, which included workshops on ‘Branding’, ‘Press Strategy’ and ‘Social Media Engagement’. The workshops were not just about how to use a hashtag or create a logo; instead, they focused on how we conceptualise radical political ideas using these tools.

The left has a problem with aesthetics

How many times have you had a crumpled black and white A4 flyer, filled with illegible text, shoved into your hands at a demonstration, with the word ‘RESISTANCE’ in huge bold letters at the top as a summary? How many placards, flyers, websites, posters, banners and logos have you seen with a big, red, clenched fist?

When Nestle creates a new product, it doesn’t say to its consumer, ‘This is just another product which will give you nutritional sustenance.’ Each new product has its own brand that explains why not only will the product satisfy your hunger, but why your whole life will be considerably better for having purchased it.

Mahmoud Mahdy, brand designer of the viral ‘We are all Hana Shalabi’ campaign, explained in the branding workshop how we must think like Nestle – branding, packaging and selling our radical political ideas – if we are going to seriously compete.

He argued that we must challenge the traditional imagery and out-dated language of the left, and imagine that we have to communicate anti-capitalist ideas to someone standing 5 feet away from us using only images and text.

What press strategy?

The left has a problem with press strategy – it doesn’t have one. In some campaigning circles, engaging with the mainstream media has come to be seen as a bourgeois activity, with any journalists who do take an interest being held under great suspicion. When big actions or demonstration take place, we fire off generic press releases at all times of day to as many news desks as we possibly can, with the hope one will bite.

Robin McAlpine, former Press Officer to the Leader of the Scottish Labour Party and now editor of the Scottish Left Review, ran a session on the day that was less of a skill-share, and more a rattle-speed tour of just exactly how much we didn’t know about media strategy.

He explained that few people really understand the process of putting a daily newspaper together, have a good feeling for the news values of a specific newspaper, know how to develop an idea in a way that gets it in the right form for that newspaper and then have decent contacts to actually make it happen. He emphasised that it was essential to have a dedicated press contact for any new campaign, who can manage relationships with journalists and maintain a consistent narrative that the media can use.

Twitter inconsistency

The left has a problem with Twitter – it is active, but its interventions are inconsistent and incoherent. Campaigners simultaneously proclaim that Twitter was the driving force behind the Egyptian revolution, whilst bemoaning that political apathy is caused by the new ‘clictivism’.

As an activist within the International Socialist Group who has written on the role of Twitter in social movements, I hosted a Twitter workshop that encouraged people to see beyond Twitter as an organising tool, and to understand its power as a creator of meaning and narrative.

A successful Twitter strategy must recognise that we are competing with both the ‘conscious’ right-wing, and the most ‘common sense’ reactionary views in society. I explained how in the aftermath of the Woolwich attack, the EDL peddled their narrative that this was not an attack on just one soldier – but instead Islam’s attack on us all. This narrative has stuck and galvanized the EDL’s street movement, as we have seen in the recent attacks on the Muslim community.

Twitter has been called ‘the first draft of the first draft of history’ – if the left is going to intervene with our narrative of history, it ignores Twitter at its peril.

With thanks to the speakers and participants of Communique Skillshare, whose lively participation and debate helped inform this article. For more information on Communique, visit our Facebook page and watch out for our new website coming soon.


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

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

Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving

Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today

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

Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK

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.

Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.

Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History

Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.

A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas

Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'

The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion

The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.

Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.

Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism

What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry


155