Time to ditch the paper: the Leftover Left and the newspaper

January 28, 2011 at 6:42 pm (AWL, bloggocks, internet, Max Dunbar, media)

This is a guest post by Mikey

Last night I went to a debate between Laurie Penny and the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (“AWL”). Others can write about what went on in the meeting, I just wish to rant about one point, an elaboration of the one I made from the floor:  the redundancy of the printed newspaper for revolutionary socialist organisations.

Looking back over the last quarter of a century, Marxist parties have not grown: they have either become smaller or struggled to remain the same size.  This is despite the fact that the key aim for a Trotskyist party is to build the party for the forthcoming revolution.

A standard method for recruitment, one that has remained unchanged since prior to the Russian Revolution in 1917, is that of publishing a newspaper and selling it. The acceptance for the need of the newspaper to spread ideas about the party and the revolution is unquestioned.  The party is as wedded to the newspaper as a heroin addict to a syringe. Arguably more so: heroin addicts have been known to break their addiction.

Despite the fact that sales of national newspapers have been in a substantial decline,  AWL have made the flabbergasting decision to increase the frequency of distribution.

Last night it appeared accepted by the majority that the revolution could not happen by anarchists on Twitter, those dubbed “Anarcho-Tweeters” by Laurie Penny. A vanguard party was needed for, if nothing else, to produce placards for demonstrations. I do not wish to discuss the need for a vanguard party, but simply whether the vanguard party needs a newspaper.

I list below some of the objections to doing away with a newspaper that I have heard, including some from last night, together with my own retorts:

1:      Not everyone has access to the internet.

This is true, but most people do.  In fact far more people have access to the internet than have access to the newspaper. This is because AWL do not have newspaper sellers all across the country. Far from it: the coverage of the country by AWL newspaper sellers is miniscule.

2: You need a newspaper for those without access to the internet.

If one were to take that argument to the extreme, then one could say that you need to produce a newspaper in numerous other languages for those that do not speak English and an audio version for the partially sighted and for those that cannot read and write.

3:      Not everyone can afford to have an Internet connection.

This is certainly true. But what makes one think that if someone cannot afford an Internet connection that they can afford to purchase a newspaper. Yes, it is true that the cost of a subscription to a weekly produced revolutionary newspaper is a lot lower than the cost an internet connection, but it is not massively so. If finances are so tough then items likely to be cut from weekly budget are likely to include the newspaper.  This is aside from the fact that by the end of this year all libraries should have free internet access. I very much doubt that all libraries subscribe to Solidarity, the weekly newspaper of the AWL.

4:      People do not read articles on the Internet.

This is a myth, they do. One can consider the Guardian’s Comment is Free web site where not only are the articles widely read but thousands of comments are left per day on the Internet published articles. It is aside that I believe that if AWL spent some time redesigning its web site it might pick up more readers. A simple change for the better could be ensuring that instead of articles having over  25 words per line as they currently do, a more standard 12-15 words per line were used.

5:      People are more likely to read an article if they pay for it.

I am not sure there is any good current evidence for this for articles that someone is interested in and are brought to their attention. I read far more articles that are free to me on the Internet than ones that I pay for.  Besides, how many people take a subscription to a journal and get so behind in their reading that copies remain unopened from one week to the next to the point where the backdated copies are simply thrown away?

6:      Selling newspapers is an excuse to chat to people about politics.

I have news for those who make that claim. I, like many people, have spoken for numerous years to different people about politics and have never once tried to sell any of them a newspaper.

7:      When the revolution comes, the ruling class will cut off access to mobile phones and the Internet.

This argument was provided from the floor last night. By this logic I should use candles to read with because come the electricity strike my electric lights will not work. It is a ridiculous argument. Even revolutionary socialists must accept that the conditions are far away from the working class starting a revolution. Besides, just as I can keep candles in a bottom draw to be prepared for an electricity strike, revolutionary parties can keep their printing presses on standby for the eventuality that the Internet is switched off.

8: You cannot express complex ideas in a Tweet that is restricted to 140 characters.

This was another argument from the floor last night. This is true but Twitter allows links. As such, in less than 140 characters, a Tweet can be written suggesting an article is read with a link provided to that article.  As an example: “Read this article on the UK Uncut campaign.  Great Interview with activists. http://tinyurl.com/ukuncutinterview #ukuncut”

9:      Selling newspapers is a discipline. Party members need to be disciplined and selling newspapers, tough as it is, shows commitment.

One former leading activist within AWL informed me of a fact that makes logical sense—selling papers costs more members than it gains. For every new  member attracted to the movement as a result of purchasing a newspaper, more than one drops out as they get fed up spending their Saturday afternoons standing outside Sainsbury’s or knocking on doors  trying to sell the blasted things. The revolutionary parties could make the revolution fun, but that is not what they want to do—they want to make it miserable. Perhaps the revolutionary parties could ponder this point.

In so far as discipline, members can be encouraged to engage in politics on line by writing blogs, commenting on other people’s blogs, entering into debates on Facebook and Twitter, things that many members possibly do already and do not mind doing. In such discussions, members can encourage others interested to attend a party meeting and potentially even join the party.

10:  Both can be done. We can produce and sell a newspaper and encourage members to have an online presence.

I do not think you get the key point above—people do not enjoy selling newspapers. They might enjoy talking to people about politics, but they do not need to sell them a newspaper to do that. It is not a necessity of a political conversation that a newspaper changes hands.

It is true that people could spend, for example, four hours a week involved in on line debates and two hours a week selling newspapers, but if you cut out the time selling newspapers they could spend six hours a week in on line debates. Two hours of on line time I would think should be much more productive than two hours knocking on doors.

None of what I am saying stops the party asking members to hand out free flyers to people on a demonstration inviting them to attend a party meeting on a given subject;  it just removes the dreaded paper sale. I know, I expect to get a comment on this article from the one person who loves going out in the snow and selling newspapers for the party they devote their life to. I ask them to consider not just themselves but all the other party members. Unsold newspapers stacking up under the beds of party members have been a long running truism for many in Trotskyist parties.

Laurie Penny has over 12,000 followers on Twitter. Her high profile cannot simply be put down to the fact that she is a journalist for the “bourgeois press.” There are plenty of other journalists for that press, including senior journalists who have nowhere near the amount of followers that she has. Part of the reason that she has gained so many followers is, without the benefit of a party, she has been very active tweeting about anti government demonstrations for the benefit of activists.  

The official Workers’ Liberty Twitter account currently has a grand sum of 65 followers. Had less time been spent on producing and selling a newspaper and more time on developing an Internet presence, this sorry state of affairs might not have occurred. Someone might even have found the time to use the account to send a Tweet advertising last night’s debate.  

Rant Over.

57 Comments

  1. maxdunbar said,

    Great post. Couple of points:

    1) Many people in fact still do not have web access – 30% of households according to last ONS survey. People who aren’t online tend to be elderly, dispossessed, disabled – the people that Dave and Gideon will hit hardest.

    That doesn’t however detract from your main point about the redundancy of paper selling.

    2) One other point you could have made is that paper selling has been known as a method by which the leadership of a far left sect can exploit its members – for example the Workers Revolutionary Party used to charge its members for every unsold paper,

  2. Mikey said,

    Max,

    Yes, it is true not everyone has access to the Internet but these people can be spoken to. But more importantly, a party member has a limited amount of time available. If they wish to reach the most amount of people are they going to do it via tracking down the odd elderly person without internet access or via being a central participant in an a big online argument?

    You are totally correct about the WRP. Not only were they charged for unsold papers, the amount of papers that they were provided to be sold was often increased. Branch debts got of hand. There were some horrific stories,including I believe people mortgaging their house to raise money to pay branch debts to the party,

  3. D said,

    In terms of accessibility, if you’re partially sighted, or otherwise unable to read, the internet may be more accessible to some than the paper, because it is possible to use assistive technology to navigate to and read a webpage. All it requires from the publisher is that the website be relatively standards compliant.

    I suspect the homes without internet barrier is also not as great as the numbers suggest. In fact, in many other countries, what you might call the ‘home computer’ stage is being skipped entirely. Why? Internet-capable mobile ‘phones.

    Now, by all means, a paper may be appropriate for an active and large local group which can actually go door to door round every house in town weekly or at least every month or so. But most left groups are out by a factor of 100.

  4. daggi bodenberg said,

    Can this article be submitted to the AWL for the next issue of their weekly paper? I think it could provoke a very interesting debate – on- and offline.

  5. Mikey said,

    D,

    I think you make a good point that for some people, reading from the Internet is easier than reading from a newspaper.

    daggi,

    Apart from the fact that there are some small changes I would like to this article, editorial in the main, which I hope someone will carry out for me, I have no real problems if AWL wish to carry this article in Solidarity. Having said that, I do not see why they would wish to. I would however be interested in reading a response from AWL to this piece. It does not need to be in the printed issue, on line is good enough for me!

  6. Clive said,

    If you were interested in seeing the AWL or any other group grow, this rant would at least have some sort of substance to it. Since you don’t, it is just an exercise in pointless twittery.

  7. Mikey said,

    Clive,

    I see logical argument is not your strong point.

  8. Clive said,

    I don’t see the point in engaging with someone who lectures a group about its failed methods in achieving growth when they don’t want it to grow in the first place.

  9. Fabian ben Israel said,

    “People are more likely to read an article if they pay for it.”

    Is this really an argument that was posed by a Socialist? Because if it is true, it looks to me as an endorsement of the fact that man value private property above common property (such as a friend passing a newspaper to me free of charge).

    One other thing, the special commitment supposedly create by selling newspapers looks very similar to false consciousness created by alienation. To ponder.

    Best!

  10. BenSix said,

    Because if it is true, it looks to me as an endorsement of the fact that man value private property above common property (such as a friend passing a newspaper to me free of charge).

    Hrm – I’m speculating blindly of course but I’d guess that – if true – it’s because things are more satisfying if they’ve been a struggle to obtain. For example, when I was a kid I got more pleasure from the (all too rare) blackberries that’d grow in public than the sweets that I could buy.

  11. daggi bodenberg said,

    Clive has a point, but at the same time the basic question in this article remains: are weekly (fortnightly, monthly, daily…) newspapers still relevant to build political organisations, or indeed, still relevant as the most important tool to build political organisations, “the revolutionary party”, or otherwise? Or has the situation changed entirely in the last decade or so?

    I think that’s a point worth thinking about and worth discussing.

  12. Alex Ross said,

    When I was a Swuppie, I was so embarrassed by selling “Socialist Worker” that I invented a fictitious satellite sale and spend £5 a week of my own pocket money (I was only 16) on fictitious sales.

  13. Waterloo Sunset said,

    If you buy in bulk, you actually make money on Class War, which can be spent on beer. That was a significant factor in my paperselling activities as a young man.

  14. Mikey said,

    @Clive,

    I guess members of a flat earth society do not like hearing criticism about some of their views from outsiders either.

    @Fabian,

    Yes, believe it or not, it is an argument I have heard from a socialist.

    @BenSix,

    You possibly enjoyed picking berries even though they were difficult to obtain. Would you have joined a “We love tidying our bedroom society” for all school children who could not wait for their chance to dust the shelves, put all their toys neatly in a box, and vacuum clean the carpet? And more than that, the time you allocated to it was Saturday mornings, because who wants to watch those cartoons on television anyway?

    @daggi,

    Thank you for your comment. It seems to me that Clive has reacted to the messenger as opposed to the message.

    @Alex,

    I can assure you that you were not the not the only person in a revolutionary socialist group to sell papers to themselves rather than doing a proper sale. This is the point I am getting at; it is ridiculous isn’t it? How many people have left revolutionary socialist groups due to the paper sale?

    @Waterloo Sunset

    I am glad to see that you were motivated by profit. Buy low, sell high! Have you ever considered working as a stockbroker?

  15. Clive said,

    Mikey, I am quite used to hearing ‘criticism of my views’. Most, obviously, are worth engaging with.

    That you think a discussion about whether an organisation (which you don’t agree with anyway) ought to produce a newspaper is equivalent to whether earth is flat demonstrates pretty clearly why any discussion, with you, is not.

    And perhaps it shows that it is that you, rather than nasty Trotskyists, who actually holds certain ‘truths’ to be self-evident, in this case equivalent to scientifically verifiable fact.

  16. Mikey said,

    Clive,

    My argument about flat earth society was just to make a point about hearing criticism from outsiders with opposing views. That should be clear to anyone.

    I am not sure why it matters as to who I am. What if I had posted more anonymously and did not make it obvious who I am by identifying myself as the person who spoke in the room on this point?

    I wish you would deal with the major points that I raise as opposed to worrying about who wrote the points and why they might have been written.

  17. BenSix said,

    Mikey –

    Would you have joined a “We love tidying our bedroom society” for all school children who could not wait for their chance to dust the shelves, put all their toys neatly in a box, and vacuum clean the carpet? And more than that, the time you allocated to it was Saturday mornings, because who wants to watch those cartoons on television anyway?

    Eh? No, I’d have fucking hated it. But if I was paid to do it I might have enjoyed the cash more than if I’d got it as a matter of course. The point isn’t that hard work is enjoyable – I, for one, had to use an example from my childhood ‘cos I’ve such a feeble sense of delayed gratification that I couldn’t think of a more immediate one – it’s that things which are hard to access can be more satisfying than things of a similar utility that are a dime a dozen.

  18. Mikey said,

    BenSix,

    As I am sure you are aware, Trot groups do not pay their members to sell the newspaper.

    Don’t you think that the revolution will be hard enough to access without having to make it more difficult by requiring party members to sell newspapers?

  19. bensix said,

    Er, no – that’s why I was replying to Fabian’s point about private/public ownership. It’s a logically consistent point; flawed only inasmuch as no one wants to buy the things.

  20. maxdunbar said,

    What an interesting discussion! I was expecting loads of jokes about hedge funds.

  21. Mikey said,

    ben six,

    I think we are going a bit off track.

    Max,

    I am still awaiting for someone to provide a defence to the newspaper. Fortunately for me, I have not been holding my breath.

  22. maxdunbar said,

    Loads of people selling papers at the Manchester anticuts demo today, including one called, I swear, ‘The Spartacist’

  23. daggi bodenberg said,

    Can this discussion be turned to one about the subject of the article? I’d be interested in Jim D’s and Clive’s views, for example.

    I am technically a Luddite, at least, I’d like to think of myself as one. At the same time I’m aware of the uses of a lot of the “new technologies”, social networks, twitter, youtube, streaming video, etc. and how they work – and maybe that’s why I don’t like them much. Maybe I value my time – and prefer my peace and quiet – too much to want to use any of them.

    Personally, I can’t really read articles on computer screens – at least not in a way that leads the contents to stay in my head, or to encourage me to think about the contents. I usually can’t be bothered to print them out either, as the layout on paper as printed isn’t usually condusive the content entering my brain either. Articles written specifically for the internet tend to be shorter and, hm, kind-of less-intellectual, due to the constraints of the screen and the medium in general. It’s like, I’d think the internet being more a kind of “Socialist Worker” (short, tabloid, punchy, headliney, here’s the ‘line’) than a theoretical journal like “Workers’ Liberty” (longer articles, even long-winded articles, page upon page of type, but something to engage with).

    And that’s without even getting on to twitter and co., which are a lot about giving very very short snippets of information (ok, links are possible, but…see above), and also about self-promotion. “Look who said this”, “look I’ve retweeted that”, and not as much about the content. In my opinion.

    At the same time, in a 24-hour news world (which I think is probably not a good thing – alone the BBC coverage of Egypt is pretty dire, due to the constant repeating of not very much at all, instead of it being turned off for 5 hours and that time being spent in research and preparing analysis), people want, understandibly, to know the situation *now*. And not 9 days ago when the paper went to press.

    But the analysis is something I still want. And there is certainly place for that on paper.
    In what form is another thing.

    Newspapers aren’t just there, obviously, as far as political organistaions are concerned, to sell and inform, but to organise. To organise their members, sympathisers, and contacts, to inform “new” people, casual readers, etc., a kind of “visiting card”; but also to provide a structure for political work. The weekly (etc.) paper sale, for the members to meet, to carry out some kind of political activity *together* (unlike online activity, which is *not* social, but alone, and done on a computer at home or somewhere), to discuss politics with other people, and to hone their own discussion and debating skills with people are not members and often outright hostile.

    Mikey seems to assume that the “revolutionary paper” is just or mainly there to provide information and to win new members; that is how the article is framed. I don’t think that’s it’s main purpose today, and I also suspect that that was never the case. Someone else (Clive, I suspect) can tell us what Lenin wrote on the issue, as this is where much of the theory on this theme comes from – and then we can see these arguments are still relevant.

  24. Mikey said,

    daggi,

    Thanks you for your response. You say:

    I can’t really read articles on computer screens – at least not in a way that leads the contents to stay in my head, or to encourage me to think about the contents.

    Well, you did manage to read my article, think about it and provide a lengthy response!

    I do not think there is any particular reason why articles written specifically for the internet need necessarily be less intellectual than those for print publications.

    Regarding Twitter and the links, there are numerous articles I read because those I follow on Twitter and respect link to them. This is also true on occasion with people’s Facebook status updates where they link to an article.

    Regarding Lenin and the newspaper, he said in Where to Begin in 1901:

    In our opinion, the starting-point of our activities, the first step towards creating the desired organisation, or, let us say, the main thread which, if followed, would enable us steadily to develop, deepen, and extend that organisation, should be the founding of an All-Russian political newspaper. A newspaper is what we most of all need; without it we cannot conduct that systematic, all-round propaganda and agitation, consistent in principle, which is the chief and permanent task of Social-Democracy in general and, in particular, the pressing task of the moment, when interest in politics and in questions of socialism has been aroused among the broadest strata of the population. Never has the need been felt so acutely as today for reinforcing dispersed agitation in the form of individual action, local leaflets, pamphlets, etc., by means of generalised and systematic agitation that can only be conducted with the aid of the periodical press. It may be said without exaggeration that the frequency and regularity with which a newspaper is printed (and distributed) can serve as a precise criterion of how well this cardinal and most essential sector of our militant activities is built up. Furthermore, our newspaper must be All-Russian. If we fail, and as long as we fail, to combine our efforts to influence the people and the government by means of the printed word, it will be utopian to think of combining other means, more complex, more difficult, but also more decisive, for exerting influence. Our movement suffers in the first place, ideologically, as well as in practical and organisational respects, from its state of fragmentation, from the almost complete immersion of the overwhelming majority of Social-Democrats in local work, which narrows their outlook, the scope of their activities, and their skill in the maintenance of secrecy and their preparedness. It is precisely in this state of fragmentation that one must look for the deepest roots of the instability and the waverings noted above. The first step towards eliminating this short-coming, towards transforming divers local movements into a single, All-Russian movement, must be the founding of an All-Russian newspaper. Lastly, what we need is definitely a political newspaper. Without a political organ, a political movement deserving that name is inconceivable in the Europe of today. Without such a newspaper we cannot possibly fulfill our task—that of concentrating all the elements of political discontent and protest, of vitalising thereby the revolutionary movement of the proletariat. We have taken the first step, we have aroused in the working class a passion for “economic”, factory exposures; we must now take the next step, that of arousing in every section of the population that is at all politically conscious a passion for political exposure. We must not be discouraged by the fact that the voice of political exposure is today so feeble, timid, and infrequent. This is not because of a wholesale submission to police despotism, but because those who are able and ready to make exposures have no tribune from which to speak, no eager and encouraging audience, they do not see anywhere among the people that force to which it would be worth while directing their complaint against the “omnipotent” Russian Government. But today all this is rapidly changing. There is such a force—it is the revolutionary proletariat, which has demonstrated its readiness, not only to listen to and support the summons to political struggle, but boldly to engage in battle. We are now in a position to provide a tribune for the nationwide exposure of the tsarist government, and it is our duty to do this. That tribune must be a Social-Democratic newspaper. The Russian working class, as distinct from the other classes and strata of Russian society, displays a constant interest in political knowledge and manifests a constant and extensive demand (not only in periods of intensive unrest) for illegal literature. When such a mass demand is evident, when the training of experienced revolutionary leaders has already begun, and when the concentration of the working class makes it virtual master in the working-class districts of the big cities and in the factory settlements and communities, it is quite feasible for the proletariat to found a political newspaper. Through the proletariat the newspaper will reach the urban petty bourgeoisie, the rural handicraftsmen, and the peasants, thereby becoming a real people’s political newspaper.

    The role of a newspaper, however, is not limited solely to the dissemination of ideas, to political education, and to the enlistment of political allies. A newspaper is not only a collective propagandist and a collective agitator, it is also a collective organiser. In this last respect it may be likened to the scaffolding round a building under construction, which marks the contours of the structure and facilitates communication between the builders, enabling them to distribute the work and to view the common results achieved by their organised labour. With the aid of the newspaper, and through it, a permanent organisation will naturally lake shape that will engage, not only in local activities, but in regular general work, and will train its members to follow political events carefully, appraise their significance and their effect on the various strata of the population, and develop effective means for the revolutionary party to influence these events. The mere technical task of regularly supplying the newspaper with copy and of promoting regular distribution will necessitate a network of local agents of the united party, who will maintain constant contact with one another, know the general state of affairs, get accustomed to performing regularly their detailed functions in the All-Russian work, and test their strength in the organisation of various revolutionary actions. This network of agents[1] will form the skeleton of precisely the kind of organisation we need—one that is sufficiently large to embrace the whole country; sufficiently broad and many-sided to effect a strict and detailed division of labour; sufficiently well tempered to be able to conduct steadily its own work under any circumstances, at all “sudden turns”, and in face of all contingencies; sufficiently flexible to be able, on the one hand, to avoid an open battle against an overwhelming enemy, when the enemy has concentrated all his forces at one spot, and yet, on the other, to take advantage of his unwieldiness and to attack him when and where he least expects it. Today we are faced with the relatively easy task of supporting student demonstrations in the streets of big cities; tomorrow we may, perhaps, have the more difficult task of supporting, for example, the unemployed movement in some particular area, and the day after to be at our posts in order to play a revolutionary part in a peasant uprising. Today we must take advantage of the tense political situation arising out of the government’s campaign against the Zemstvo; tomorrow we may have to support popular indignation against some tsarist bashi-bazouk on the rampage and help, by means of boycott, indictment, demonstrations, etc., to make things so hot for him as to force him into open retreat. Such a degree of combat readiness can be developed only through the constant activity of regular troops. If we join forces to produce a common newspaper, this work will train and bring into the foreground, not only the most skillful propagandists, but the most capable organisers, the most talented political party leaders capable, at the right moment, of releasing the slogan for the decisive struggle and of taking the lead in that struggle.

    I do not see why articles on the Internet website cannot fulfil the functions that Lenin suggested by the newspaper. The possible exception is the following:

    The mere technical task of regularly supplying the newspaper with copy and of promoting regular distribution will necessitate a network of local agents of the united party, who will maintain constant contact with one another, know the general state of affairs, get accustomed to performing regularly their detailed functions in the All-Russian work, and test their strength in the organisation of various revolutionary actions.

    There is no reason why requesting people to write articles for the Web page of the party (the online newspaper) contribute to the comments section underneath the post to get a discussion going.

    The social interaction with other members that you suggest is important could be carried out in branch meetings and “down the pub.” I do not think it matters whether you are selling newspapers on the street corner or getting involved in a discussion in
    the comments thread of a CiF post, you stand a good chance of coming across someone who is downright hostile.

  25. daggi bodenberg said,

    Do not most paper sales of left groups take place as part of a branch meeting (before?) and conclude “down the pub”.

    Well, you did manage to read my article, think about it and provide a lengthy response!

    I mentioned though, specfically, “intellectual” articles that require thinking about. There’s nothing difficult or “deep” in your, on a screen long-ish, but on paper short-ish article.

  26. Waterloo Sunset said,

    I agree with daggi. I read a lot of stuff online (obviously), but with extremely lengthy articles, I do find it easier to follow in a paper format. For me, the problem is more that a lot of left papers (in general, as opposed to the AWL specifically) are actually really badly written…

  27. Waterloo Sunset said,

    @ Max

    Offtopic (sorry Mikey), did you hear any of the racist chanting the Daily Mail is claiming took place at the rally?

  28. Mikey said,

    daggi,

    Whether the paper sales do or don’t take place as part of branch meetings and conclude down the pub is neither here nor there. Incidentally, as the WRP has been mentioned, in her memoirs To be a Redgrave: the inside story of a marriage, Robson Books, 1982,p.210), Deirdre Redgrave makes a reference to the fact that her husband Corin Redrave used to be up at five in the morning to sell the paper at the factory gates. While the WRP was an exception it is not really the point I am making. The actual point I am making is that members do not like doing the paper sale and, as I mentioned in my main post, it causes more members to leave than it recruits. Why bother? Why do it? Why put people through that? I really do not believe it is necessary,

    FYI, my post was over 1,500 words which is certainly not a short article for a newspaper. It is a lot longer than most columns. I do accept it is not the sort of article for a theoretical journal. Having said that I do read an awful lot of journal articles via JSTOR and other outlets on line. It is true that these articles are also printed in published form, but I would be surprised if more read them that way than on line. In any event, this is not an argument for retaining newspaper sales.

    Besides, in practice, the Alliance for Workers Liberty makes its newspaper Solidarity free on line. As I commented in my main post sales of national newspapers have substantially declined and the reason is largely due to the Internet. Why bother paying for a newspaper if you can read its contents or similar content free on line? I suspect that many people who purchase the newspaper and have access to the Internet are purchasing it, in part, to show solidarity with the seller/the party. If there was no newspaper, which, quite frankly, tends to be loss making, members of the party would have to contribute less money – or if they contribute the same – more full timers can be taken on. Whatever way I look at it, I cannot really see a case for the party newspaper.

  29. Alex Ross said,

    Mikey,

    Very true.

    I guess I wouldn’t have minded so much if what I was peddling (the “socialist worker”) was a decent read.

    Instead, we had to sell something that made the Daily Express look like the pinnacle of objectivity and critical thinking in comparison. Very few of my former “comrades” ever bothered reading it, so why would I ever consider flogging it to some poor unsuspecting member of the public?

    The only articles I liked were the unintentionally hilarious music reviews (always something along the lines of…The Spice Girls latest album is a glorious collection of pop songs, compromised only by their failure to mention the revolutionary potential of the proletariat.)

    I’d much rather get involved in the open, free exchange of ideas in the blogosphere than the monolithic, ideologically constrained world of the “revolutionary newspaper”.

  30. Mikey said,

    @Alex

    Thanks very much. The music reviews in Socialist Worker might be something I revisit in the future.

    @All,

    It is a real shame that nobody has so far bothered responding to my major points.

  31. ScurvyDom said,

    Mikey: I’m still weighing up the pros and cons of paper selling, I appreciate your contribution to the debate. But I think there is something naive about thinking that the role of the Newspaper can be transported with 1-to-1 fidelity to the web. You mention how time spend talking to members of the public while selling a newspaper could be better spent commenting online articles. Really? It seems to me that nobody’s mind is ever changed by internet debate, and by that I specifically mean that nobody’s mind is changed by debates in the comment sections under articles. I’ve made a new years resolution to stop reading the comments on comment-is-free, because it’s just a bunch of right-wing posters saying typically right wing things and left-wing posters retorting with left-wing things. Outside of tight-knit internet communities where there was some sense of fraternity, I have never seen an internet poster admit they were wrong because of the argument made by another poster. It just doesn’t happen.

    The internet’s a great tool, and as someone who’s grown up with an internet connection since the mid nineties, it’s one I feel very comfortable using. But even so, the quality of communication on the internet is lower than face to face conversation. I feel it’s difficult to make myself understood to my best friends online. Whether or not revolutionary parties need newspapers is up for debate. But there’s no question that there’s a persuasive power of real-live-conversations with real-live-people on real-live-streets that the internet just doesn’t have.

    But to be positive, there are obviously ways of politically engaging the public on the streets without selling a newspaper. When I was campaigning with the Japanese Communist Party they used to set up on-street ‘Labour Consultations’ where they would talk to (mostly young) people on the sntreet and get them to fill in questionnaires on their employment situation, how much overtime they had to do, how secure they felt in their job, what were their worries, what steps they’d like to see the government take etc. There were big boards split into sections of things like “low wages”, “Sexual harrasment” etc etc, and people were given stickers to stick on the section that most concerned them. There were tables and chairs set up for more in depth conversations about people’s concerns and politics. Some of the info would be relayed to welfare offices, and all of it informed party policy.

  32. Mikey said,

    ScurvyDom,

    I take your point about the comments sections of a blog entry on sites such as CiF and even Harry’s Place etc being a shouting match between the left and right and that the two sides will never agree.

    This is still not an argument in favour of retaining the paper sale.

    You argue, or at least imply, that the chances of changing someone’s mind is far better face to face. As I said in my main post, I, and many others, have been discussing politics face to face with people for many years without the need to sell the people I am speaking to a newspaper. You also provide a good example with setting up a campaigning stall on the street and chatting to people about various subjects. As you concede, this can be done perfectly well without selling a newspaper.

    Let us also consider the practicalities of what occurs in the paper sale. It is not when you sell the person the newspaper that you chat about the detailed contents of the article – if the seller was going to tell the potential customer all of that information – then there would be no need to purchase the newspaper. The seller also does not sell the paper and request that the purchaser stand next to them and read it and then when they finished they can have a discussion. No, the way it works is that the paper is sold and ideally the next week, when they walk past, the seller might well engage with the person about the article in the previous week’s paper. Given this, no paper needs to be sold. What could occur is that instead of selling newspapers, party members can have a stash of “business cards” (“party cards”?) with the website address of the party. These “business cards” could even have the name (party pseudonym?) of the person handing them out together with a contact phone number and email address. These could be handed out to by the party member to a potential recruit and it is suggested that they read the web site, and if interested call them up for a discussion. (It is amazing what is possible available to lots of people now – telephone/internet etc that was not available in Russia in 1901). Now, let us say we come across the person without Internet access. Well, rather than them having to spend £1, or whatever it is, for a cost of the newspaper, they can spend the same amount at a local internet cafe to read the thing, or nothing and access the web site at the local library. Now let us say that there are the odd technophobic types who the party member comes across. What about them? Well, how about the party member printing off a selection of articles from the website on A4 paper in the same way they would print off an article for home use and hand it out free to those poor people. Given how many people this would cover, and given how much the party has to spend on the newspaper, I am sure this would still work out substantially cheaper for members.

    To be honest with you ScurvyDom, I have really yet to come across any argument that could even semi convince me for the need for a party newspaper. I still wait. I have let a couple of active members of AWL know about this blog post – they haven’t responded. An excuse I have been given is not that dissimilar to the one provided by Clive above: what is the point of engaging with me when I am not a Trotrskyist and do not support the violent overthrow of parliamentary democracy. It is all about attacking the messenger as opposed to the message. I therefore appreciate your comment.

  33. Planeshift said,

    Reading the stories of members having to pay for unsold copies, or finding a newspaper sale so pointless that they would rather pay their own money for a batch of them (and £5 is a lot of money to a teenager) raises a far greater question; if the parties concerned treat their own members in such a fashion, how on earth could they be trusted to treat the wider public in a respectful fashion?

    Frankly when faced with an organisation that would require somebody to devote significant amounts of time and money (some trot parties want a third of your income) in order to support them, you can easily see why such parties remain small.

  34. Mikey said,

    Planeshift,

    You raise a very good point. A more amusing anecdote is that one of the best days for sales of News Line, the newspaper of the Trotskyist, Workers Revolutionary Party, an organisation previously mentioned, was, from what I was once told, when there was a newspaper strike. Those working for the party paper were not allowed to go on strike so they could get their one printed and distributed.

  35. maxdunbar said,

    Waterloo

    I was only at the Platt Fields rally – the Porter incident happened in the city centre

  36. Peckham Pulse said,

    I buy socialist newspapers so I can read them on the bus, in the queue at the post office and other more private places. It also gives me the chance to have a chat with someone local who has similar views as I dont have a social circle of socialists . I can also leave it on the bus etc for someone else to read instead of the Metro. I also read articles and blogs on the net but cannot leave my computer on the bus for others to read, cart it around or chat through it as I can in real time to a real person.
    Newspapers like leaflets are propaganda, a way of introducing new people to our politics. The net is more for communicating with people already familiar and interested in our ideas.
    I used to sell Socialist Worker years ago and had to pay for 5 in advance. I and friends used to sell them before going to the pub on a Saturday. It took about 20 minutes and we did meet a lot of new people both socially and politically. We actually enjoyed it.

  37. Mikey said,

    Peckham Pulse,

    I knew there would be one person who informed me that they “actually enjoyed” selling the party newspaper. I find it amazing that sellers have to pay for them in advance. There is no sale or return is there? This is unlike the newsagents and the “bourgeois press.” If they do not sell copies of the newspapers they can return them.

    If you wish to have a chat with the current local socialist paper seller, surely you do not need to purchase a paper from him/her to do so. What if you simply took their phone number and arranged to meet them? If they are party activists then surely they would be pleased to talk to a potential recruit about politics. I am not compelled to purchase a newspaper from the people I like to speak about politics with. Why should you be? For you is it comparable to some kind of addiction: those that can’t have a cup of coffee without a cigarette, can you not discuss politics without purchasing a paper?

    If you really are keen to spread the word by leaving socialist propaganda on a bus, you do not need to do it with a newspaper. You could print the articles off a computer, read the A4 sheets on a bus, or at a queue at the post office and leave them for someone else to read instead of the Metro.

    You claim that while newspapers “are propaganda, a way of introducing new people to our politics. The net is more for communicating with people already familiar and interested in our ideas.” Why is this necessarily so? Surely the web pages of revolutionary socialist parties can have numerous pages devoted to introducing people to revolutionary ideas? In fact, contrary to your comments, the web pages of revolutionary socialist parties do have introductory information.

    I am still awaiting a solid defence to the idea of revolutionary parties retaining newspapers.

  38. Bruce said,

    I am a member of the AWL and – before I one

  39. Bruce said,

    Oops – hate these comment boxes.

    I am a member of the AWL and – in case I’m accused of technophobia – one who in the 90s advocated and helped get the AWL online.

    I have only skimmed this thread (does that prove anything?) but think everyone has missed a bleedin’ obvious point – namely that having a newspaper enables one to approach people randomly on the street or by knocking on their doors with something that enables you to be broadly identified before you open your mouth. Curious people are drawn to ask you questions, others abuse you, some stop to talk, the majority walk past. I don’t know if Mikey goes up to people on the street, accosts them and gives them a business card or starts a political discussion – I doubt it. Rather I think he hangs around (physically and cyberspatially) the kind of milieu where he knows he will get people to talk to him even if only by provocation.

    One does not generally get the same sort of audience for a website. And typing is not a very time efficient or effective way of having an interactive argument.

    Every so often there is a debate on the death of the book. It is still alive and kicking. Now we’re hearing about the death of ‘old media’. I don’t see that either. (Though I’m not dismissive of new media either. I’ll post on that elsewhere.)

  40. Mikey said,

    Bruce,

    Around the time of the time of General Elections, I have candidates, or supporters of candidates, from parties such as the Labour Party, the Lib-Dems and the Conservatives knock on my door. Not one of them tries to sell me a paper. Why do you feel that you need to sell a paper to get a discussion going when those from the “bourgeois parties” do not?

    If Labour Party supporters can wear a red rosette when knocking on people’s doors to identify themselves, why do revolutionary socialists need a newspaper? Surely, they could simply wear a flat cap with a Lenin star
    on the front.

    I am not actually saying that the newspaper or books are dead. What I am saying is that the newspaper is pretty much redundant for revolutionary socialist parties. The money that is spent on funding the party newspaper could be spent elsewhere.

  41. Bruce said,

    That is a stupid comparison and one that does not answer my point. Following your logic there would be no reason for the main parties to stick leaflets through doors or get their manifestos sent out in the post. Plus general elections are times when political awareness is high and people might be expected to have heard of Labour or the Tories. Lenin is not such a well-known ‘brand’ in British politics or – to put it another way – I think having a paper to sell provides a short introduction to my politics on a range of issues (not all of which would be covered in most verbal discussions) and is more durable than the sound of my voice.

    BTW, do you know anyone who just goes around knocking on doors trying to engage people in political discussion?

  42. ScurvyDom said,

    Mikey: If you read my comment to the end, you’ll see I’m less arguing in favor in support of the party newspaper model and more arguing for realism about the limits of engaging with the public online. I gave some examples of how one might continue to engage with the public on the streets without the need for a newspaper.
    I’m still agnostic, I think that their are many pros to maintaining a newspaper, but I think whether or not these pros outweigh the cons is an important discussion I think the parties of the Far-Left need to engage in with an open mind and without simply resorting to “BUT LENIN SAID!”

  43. Mikey said,

    Bruce,

    Your point was that having a newspaper to sell “enables one to approach people randomly on the street or by knocking on their doors with something that enables you to be broadly identified before you open your mouth.” I am saying you do not need this. I said a Lenin would be good enough. You retort that it wouldn’t because “Lenin is not such a well-known ‘brand’ in British politics.” Well, if Lenin is not a well-known brand, I think it is safe to say that more people have some vague awareness of who Lenin was than what Solidarity newspaper is. So if it is brand awareness that concerns you, Lenin is better than Solidarity.

    Your second point is that “I think having a paper to sell provides a short introduction to my politics on a range of issues (not all of which would be covered in most verbal discussions) and is more durable than the sound of my voice.” When you sell them a newspaper they go back in to their house, or back home, and read the paper. As I said, you could have simply handed them a business card with the website address of the party. This would have saved them £1 (or whatever the cover price is of Solidarity) and they could have read the same information.

    Now, I have a question for you. What is your response to the former leading member of your own organisation who informed me that selling papers costs your organisation more members than it gains because members hate the paper sale?

  44. Mikey said,

    ScurvyDom,

    Yes, I do accept, as I noted that on line debates can become shouting matches between those with opposite views – and neither side will convince each other.

    I do not have an objection to having a trestle table with a stand and people wearing stickers to talk about “low wages”, “education cuts” etc as you implied that you have previously done. I just do not see the need for a newspaper.

  45. Bruce said,

    Mikey,

    You constantly shift the argument without replying to my points. You did not reply to my point that it is not possible just to accost people on the street randomly and engage them to talk politics. You did not reply to my point is not possible to draw people to a website in the same way as when they encounter you on the street. I only mentioned brands because you compared selling Solidarity to parties calling in a General Election – it is not central or even very relevant to my argument. This thread is becoming an example of why arguing in this way over the net is not very useful.

    On your second point, I doubt very much whether it’s true whoever might or might not have said it.

  46. Michael Ezra said,

    Bruce,

    If it is not possible to accost people on the street randomly and engage them to talk politics, how does it change matters if you have a newspaper in your hand? If you believe that it is because people will come up to you, then surely you stiLl do not need a newspaper. You could as a different poster has said they did, and as many campaigning organisations do on occasion, do something such as having a trestle table available and a big sign saying things such as “Talk to us about the ConDem cuts.” It is not necessary to sell a newspaper. Alternatively, if you believe that it makes it easier to approach people with a newspaper, then you would need to explain why, when I walk near my local supermarket, I rgularly get accosted by people who wish me to sign up a standing order to pay money to a specific charity that they are raising money for – be in Amnesty International – or otherwise. These people also do not try and sell me a newspaper.

    You claim that it is not possible to draw people to a web site in the same way as when they encounter you on the street. I am not entirely sure what you mean by that – but I assume you mean that people are more likely to notice you if you are on the street than if you are just one of billions of web sites. Even if this is true – and I am not saying that it is – it still does not mean that you have to sell that person a newspaper – when you meet them on the street – you can simply direct them to the website. I also do not necessarily accept the point – effective internet marketing has led, as I said in main post, to Laurie Penny having over 12,000 followers on Twitter. She didn’t obtain such a substantial following by selling newspapers but by her internet strategy. As I also said, this amount of followers cannot also be put down to her access to the “bourgeois press” as she has substantial more Twitter followers than a number of very well established bourgeois press journalists.

    Finally, you doubt that it is true that newspaper sales cost more members than is gained and this is despite the fact that I was informed of this by a former senior activist in your organisation who is in a position to know. For what it is worth I have attended summer schools of SO/AWL for some 25 years. My guess is that more people showed up in the mid 1980s than now. Some atendees are the same and some are different – you must have had a number of people leave your organisation in that period – you really do need a good explanation for this. It is also the case that with the current membership and rate of recruitment less drop outs that those of us, including myself, who quite like parliamentary democracy, do not have much to fear from your organisation leading a storming of the Houses of Parliament in the near future.

  47. David K said,

    As a AWL member I want to counter this idea paper selling costs us members. Maybe some are put off but it also helps us recruit others.

    I was recruited in York after passing AWL members doing paper sales outside York Station. I had read AWL’s website on line and liked it but seeing and meeting comrades putting forward there ideas on the streets and identifying them through the paper made the difference.

    One of the people selling papers in york was recruited after a AWL comrade spotted her on the Train reading the Socialist Worker and approached her to sell Solidarity and discuss articles in the SW.

    Just before Christmas I met a young guy on a demo who came up to buy a paper and ended up joining.

    Paper selling takes up a few of hours a week at most and most of your sales will be to people you know. If you cannot hack selling papers because it is cold or embarrassing I really do not think you can hack being a revolutionary socialist.

  48. Mikey said,

    David K,

    Thank you for message.

    You said that you were recruited by members outside York station doing a paper sale. What difference would it have made to you if they were not doing a paper sale but were there with a trestle table and some freebie leaflets? Why the necessity of the newspaper?

    In relation to the member recruited on a train because she was reading Socialist Worker, again, why was it necessary to sell them Solidarity to speak to them? Let us consider the initial introductory line went something like:

    “I see you are reading, Socialist Worker. I am pleased to see that you are interested in socialist politics. I am also a socialist but have a different view on certain matters to the SWP, the party that produce the newspaper you are reading. My organisation, AWL, have its own newspaper, Solidarity, in fact I have a copy, would you like to purchase one?”

    Of course I have made it quite brief and it is obviously not an exact conversation and there may well have been a discussion about politics before the final sale request, but it is just an example.

    Why couldn’t the conversation have gone something like this?

    “I see you are reading, Socialist Worker. I am pleased to see that you are interested in socialist politics. I am also a socialist but have a different view on certain matters to the SWP, the party that produce the newspaper you are reading. My organisation, AWL, have a website http://www.workersliberty.org. Because we are technologically advanced, the website also has a mobile site which makes it very easy to read on mobile phones. Here, let me give you my card which has both my phone number and the website address of my party. If you get a chance, I do suggest that you read our recent article on NHS reform. It will be easy to spot from the web page. In fact, I am just sitting over there, and I am on this train to the end of the line. If you get a chance to read the article before you get off and are interested, do come over and chat to me further. Otherwise, feel free to call me or the party number for more information if that article or any other article interests you, or indeed if you simply want to find out more about our politics.”

    I am not saying that newspaper sales have not aided recruits. Hence I am not surprised that one person in December on a demo purchased a paper and ended up joining. But again, did you have to have a newspaper? Would a leaflet with some information have done? Possibly, possibly not.

    You say that “Paper selling takes up a few of hours a week at most and most of your sales will be to people you know.” How many of those people you know are buying the paper as they feel a bit sorry for you? Solidarity is provided free in a PDF form on the AWL website anyway. I do not purchase the Guardian as I read the article I want free on the Guardian web site, why should I or your friends spend 80p to read Solidarity when they can read it for free? If they are showing “solidarity” by purchasing Solidarity then why can’t the show solidarity by just donating 80p to the party instead. In my opinion, and I am not a revolutionary socialist, that “few hours a week” could be better spent on other activities for the party such as debating on web sites or simply on reading some theoretical material. Perhaps an hour could be spent learning the words of the Internationale and so that when I turn up to the AWL summer school and it gets to the end, when I look around, people will actually know the words of this famous song rather than mumble through it, which was the case for many when I turned up last summer.

    Your final sentence reads as follows: “If you cannot hack selling papers because it is cold or embarrassing I really do not think you can hack being a revolutionary socialist.”
    Under that logic, perhaps you should require all members to go abroad for rifle training and undergo a very disciplined keep fit regime – possibly running 5 miles each morning and doing those sort of army assault course type training schedules. The revolution will be violent you know and if you can’t hack violence then I do not think you can hack being a revolutionary socialist. Looking at the rabble that turned up to the AWL summer school, I think they have a long way to go on that keep fit front before they lead a storming of the Houses of Parliament. Better start training now, hey?

  49. Planeshift said,

    “Maybe some are put off but it also helps us recruit others. ”

    There is a simple way to test this thesis; look at the membership figures for all parties that use newspapers.. If membership has gradually risen over the years, then the strategy works. If it has declined then it hasn’t.

  50. David K said,

    @ Mikey

    Sounds like you have seen me. I definitely could do with a few 5 mile runs.

    Since you seem to accept leaflets as alternatives to papers it becomes obvious that your problem is charging not distributing the printed word. But leaflets are not a good substitute for papers, giving away leaflets for free hemorrhages money. They still have to be written, printed etc. Plus they never look that good. Papers cover their cost and look better.

    The point about the person reading the Socialist Worker was not that our comrade had another paper to offer her. By reading a socialist paper she openly identified herself as a socialist.

    I cant see there is any better use of a socialist time doing collective street activity, engaging people and promoting our politics on the street. Papers allow you to do all of these things at once.

  51. Mikey said,

    David K,

    If you talk about what “hemorrhages money” then the first thing you should look at is the cost of the printing and distributing the paper run and compare it to revenues from genuine sales.

    Seriously, how many people purchase Solidarity that do not have access to the internet and can hence access the newspaper at new additional cost to their internet subscription that they have? I would guess the vast majority of the people who purchase the newspaper have access to the Internet where they live and for those that do not, they can access it at a local library. No doubt you will tell me of the housebound reader who can’t leave his house and does not have access to the Internet. Well for him, how about printing off all the pages and giving him some A4 sheets with all the articles on them? The cost of subsidising this poor fellow is a lot less than the general cost of subsidising the cost of production of the newspaper.

    Your comment “Papers cover their cost ” is a big comment to make. I doubt that it is true. Potentially it might be if, as some parties do, the members have to take the newspapers and pay for them irrespective if they genuinely sell them to a third party or not. Note Alex Ross’s comment above: “I invented a fictitious satellite sale and spend £5 a week of my own pocket money (I was only 16) on fictitious sales.” If Alex Ross was prepared to give £5 of his money to the party each week then surely it could have been put to better use than him taking papers and throwing them away. As I have also mentioned – party newspapers stashed up under people’s beds is a long running joke among Trotskyist party members.

    It is substantially cheaper to subsidise leaflets distributed on some demonstration or other. As Laurie Penny mentioned at the debate to which the post which started this thread was sparked by, the SWP produce placards for demonstrations. The SWP do not charge demonstrators for these placards and placards are a damn sight more expensive to produce than leaflets. This is aside from the fact that it is a waste of money for most of the purchasers to pay for the newspaper when they can access it for free on line anyway. I am not a revolutionary socialist and never have been, but I used to purchase a number of Trotskyist organisation newspapers – now I purchase none. The reason is not because I am less interested but because I do not need to. A couple of clicks and they are downloaded onto my computer. or I can simply read the articles on line. Why bother encouraging people to spend money needlessly on a newspaper that they should be able to access on line without any additional payment?

    But the point I wish to make is that with the exception of things like demonstrations where it might be deemed is a whole load of target people for members, hanging around in the street outside Sainsbury’s in the hope of finding a potential recruit is massively inefficient. For the odd person that is spotted on a train reading Socialist Worker how many more socialists can you meet on line with effective internet marketing?

    What I would like you to answer is the following. How is it that a couple of people sitting in a pub in October 2010 could think of an idea that they labelled #UKUncut and have in the space of a couple of months hundreds of activists attend demonstrations, occupy shops etc etc. The answer is that they did not do it by standing around outside Sainsbury’s trying to sell newspapers to people! They did it via effective Internet marketing. The truth is that UKUncut has a much bigger following than AWL, the former do not sell newspapers, and they have only been going for a few months, not thirty years!

    I am therefore not simply moaning about the cost of a newspaper vs a free leaflet, I am saying the whole strategy of the weekly paper sale is inefficient. If you want to meet hundreds / thousands of people interested in left wing ideas – you can do it much easier on line. Try Twitter / Facebook/ or a whole host of left wing blogs.

  52. Martin Ohr said,

    MIkey,

    I wrote a long comment on this earlier in the week, but somehow it got lost in the posting- I think my employers web filtering blocked it 😉

    Your objections to a newspaper become increasingly perverse; but the comparision with UKUncut takes the biscuit, to suggest that the fact that a populist campaign has more members than a hard-core trot group is the proof of the internet vs printed papers is idiotic.

    In any case- we already do all of the things you propose in addition to the weekly paper.

    I could go onto give lots of technical reasons why the printed paper is better in lots of ways that solely the web- and like Bruce I’m no sort of technophobe, I’ve been using the www(or it’s predessors like janet) for more than 20 years, I got my first ever online ban (for being too political) way back in 1990, etc, etc.

    But for the whole of that time I’ve also been active in politics, so I do also have the sense of what works and what doesn’t, The web has lots of drawbacks that simple mechanism of the time and human editing that the printed paper doesn’t, so for now
    the paper still has a vitalrole to play thanks very much.

  53. Mikey said,

    Martin,

    It is a shame that your long comment disappeared as your latest effort is devoid of any substance in a defence of the newspaper. Perhaps your earlier comment had more of attempt. Would you like to try again with some more solid points? If you do, I would be delighted to respond.

    You claim that you “have the sense of what works and what doesn’t.” Perhaps you would also like to explain where your party has gone wrong over the last quarter of century. If you really do know what works – why do you keep doing things wrong? Surely you must accept that your party must have done some major things wrong to still be at a very small size?

    • Martin Ohr said,

      Mikey,

      If I boil down my long post into 2 points

      1) we already do all the things you suggest (and we make a newspaper)
      2) a newspaper by it’s edited nature overcomes some of the drawbacks of the web -such as long winded contributions that refuse to engage with any points being made dominating a whole debate.

  54. Mikey said,

    Martin,

    Thank you for your response.

    I shall deal with your two points in turn.

    1.

    You state:

    we already do all the things you suggest (and we make a newspaper)

    I respond:

    You do not do all the things I have suggested. I stated in my post that your party’s Twitter account has a derisory amount of followers. It still does although I see it has increased by seven followers since I put up my post 6 days ago. As I also said in my main post, you never even bothered using that account to advertise the talk between Ed Maltby and Laurie Penny. The Twitter account has been used precisely twice in the last four months to send a message.

    Your web presence is actually quite derisory. Not that the amount of commentators on a blog is directly correlated to the amount of readers of the blog, it possibly gives some idea of a blog’s popularity. I would guess that the web based socialist blog Socialist Unity gets substantially more hits than AWL’s web site. That blog, which is one of many examples, does not have the backing of a bunch of newspaper sellers that can direct traffic to its site.

    The fact that you also sell newspapers does not stop the point that I have reiterated: people do not like standing on the street and selling newspapers. (Please do not insult my intelligence and try and attempt to defy reality by pretending that members love standing outside Sainsbury’s on a cold and wet Saturday afternoon trying to find some punters for the newspaper.) It also does not deal with the point that I have mentioned was told to me by a former leading member of your organisation: selling papers costs more members than it gains as members detest the paper sale so much that it is a key reason why they get fed up with revolutionary parties.

    2.

    You state:

    a newspaper by it’s edited nature overcomes some of the drawbacks of the web -such as long winded contributions that refuse to engage with any points being made dominating a whole debate.

    I respond:

    I am not entirely sure I understand the point you are trying to make here, but I think I do and as such I shall comment.

    It is a total nonsense to suggest that a newspaper has an advantage over the Internet because it is edited. It is perfectly possible to edit articles appearing on line and you must know that this is the case. I am therefore surprised that you have even bothered mentioning this point which I think is totally ridiculous.

    If, by long winded contributions, you are referring to the comments section underneath a post as opposed to a main post or article itself, then I accept that these are not edited. The relevance is that the main article, the one that would appear in a paper if you had one (and you do have one), could appear on the Internet instead with exactly the same editing process.

    The comments section is another matter entirely – but then again – two people having a conversation on the street outside Sainsbury’s is not edited. This section allows people to speak their mind and put points across. If points are not answered then the poster who made the points is free to highlight to readers what their point was and how they have not been answered. Readers can make up their own minds.

    I still see no need for AWL to continue to publish a newspaper. Give your members a break – let them spend some time reading Robert Service’s biography of Trotsky instead.

  55. Images, words « Poumista said,

    […] Time to ditch the paper: the Leftover Left and the newspaper. […]

  56. lost said,

    i read part of this debate.whilst continueing print medi is a1question of economics as well as politics,i must admit that i am of that age and generation who hasa better sense of the presence of revolutionary socialism from the streets,workplaces and elswhere in our communities than via the internet.selling and buying a paper has the real feel of an encounter between human beings

    whilst im learning to come to terms with the internet,it still feels spacy and vacant and somehow less trustworthy.

    so….help me to think this through please?

    fraternally,
    lost

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