I’m not on Twitter so I normally miss this kind of crap. As an increasing number of friends are coming to the conclusion that having more single-sentence conversations on their smart phones will significantly improve their daily lives, however, I am starting to catch wind of some of the faecal matter that gets flung between TweetDeck, Co-Tweet, and whatever.
This week saw the so-called Escalate Collective publish their second communiqué, a critical analysis of the TUC march on the 26th last month. I don’t really want to go into what that piece says (Escalate speak for themselves) as much as I want to retort some of the criticisms I’ve heard against it. In particular, Labourite member of the Twitterati Owen Jones levelled some accusations against the piece which I find quite troubling, and yet simultaneously pretty insightful; as a well-connected member, Owen is someone whose views I take to be emblematic of attitudes in the Labour party (or at least its “left-wing”) at large.
I have a lot of respect for Owen despite disagreeing with his politics. I think he is certainly sincere about his beliefs, and he is an intelligent guy. It is for this reason that I’m disappointed to find him slating Escalate for not being “accessible” to ordinary working-class folk. He steers well clear of engaging with any of the collective’s arguments, laying his focus solely on the form in which they are presented – a mixture of academic and aphoristic language. Strange behaviour from a PhD candidate.
Owen’s objections are grounded in an assumption that Escalate are writing “for the masses” rather than for more seasoned activists. As far as I can tell, Escalate have no pretension to replace the Daily Mirror. In fact, in their description, Escalate state outright that they are from the University of London. They might even be workers, but they certainly don’t hide the academic envrionment from which they write.
Just because something is not populist does not mean it is not accessible. Articulating yourself well doesn’t mean that you are necessarily difficult for everyone to understand. Long words do not necessitate inaccessibility. I would say that the Escalate piece on the whole is actually pretty masterfully glued together – virtually every sentence is saturated with thought and does not take long to deliver its point.
The basic belief underpinning Owen’s argument is that “the working-class” (rather than sections of it) are too under-educated to follow the arguments. This is chiefly classist nonsense. (Workerism proves itself to be its own opposite.) While there are no doubt too many workers who would not care for the language Escalate use, or who do not have the sufficient “cultural capital” to access it, to outright deny their potential to understand is problematic and means that ultimately under-educated workers may never be offered the opportunity to access such culture – or not by Owen’s Labour party at any rate. Besides, I’m certain there are a whole lot of upper-class people whose eyes would also glaze over if you read them some Escalate, Tiqqun, or similar. This isn’t about the working-class vs. the intelligentsia.
This kind of lowest common denominator politics which Owen propounds seems to underwrite his entire party: from Labour’s apparent relationship with the working-class,* to the arid politics of its leadership. If Ed Miliband were a word, he would certainly be a short one. He might not even be a four-letter word. When opposition to public sector spending cuts is boiled down to a non-assertive appeal for “growth” – rather than a principled defence of public services as such – it is scarcely oppositional at all; but the lowest common denominator trumps, and working within a capitalist framework, that common denominator will always be capital itself.
* And yet when was the last time anyone read a Labour party manifesto? In Owen’s opinion, should his party save their energy and distribute free lollipops to working-class voters instead? It might prove to be a better tactic to win back lost votes from workers than Ed** Balls’ promises to shaft them slightly less hard over a longer period of time.
** Why the fuck are they all called “Ed”?