Paul Foot

Introduction to In the Heat of the Struggle

(September 1993)

From In the Heat of the Struggle: 25 Years of Socialist Worker (London: Bookmarks, 1993), pp. 9–12.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

MOST OF the propaganda about a free press in Britain is about as credible as a story from Enid Blyton. Five on a Treasure Island would be an appropriate title for it. Of the 14 million newspapers sold every day in Britain, 92 percent are owned and rigidly controlled by five men. One of these men, Rupert Murdoch, who also owns and controls Sky Television, now directly, without the slightest attention to the views of anyone else, runs a third of the British mass media.

The five are in the game for one purpose only: profit. They instinctively support everyone else who produces for profit. The bigger and the richer their friends, the more support they give them in the mass media.

Of course everyone in Britain is ‘free’ to produce competitors to these newspapers. Anyone can set up a printing press, hire some writers, and have a stab at creating a mass circulation newspaper capable of competing with the Sun or the Mirror. All you need for this venture – just for a start, that is – is ten million pounds minimum. Then your problems start. The advertising industry, which provides half the revenue for newspapers, and the distribution industry, controlled by two huge monopolies, are also in the hands of the rich, loyal to the rich. The truth is that everyone is as free to set up a newspaper as they are to spend a night in the Ritz. All you need is an enormous amount of money, which only very few people have.

It’s impossible to imagine the rich proprietors, rich advertisers and rich distributors will publish newspapers which spread ideas hostile to the rich. If we in the labour movement want a new set of ideas to circulate among workers, we will have to provide, subsidise and circulate our own media. Unless we do so, the rich will have a monopoly in the ideas business even more pernicious that their monopoly of the means of production. The irony is, however, that the labour movement has consistently, throughout the century, abandoned its independent press. The Daily Herald was taken over by the Labour Party in the early 1920s, sold to the TUC a few years later and built into the biggest circulation paper in Britain. In 1958, the TUC sold its stake. The Herald, then selling nearly two million copies a day, closed down in 1964. Murdoch bought its successor in 1969. It is now the Sun. Until recently the Labour Party produced a weekly and monthly paper – Labour Weekly and New Socialist. Now both have vanished. The aspiration of modern Labour has sunk so low that they are happy with the crumbs of spare they are tossed from the high tables of the proprietors.

Socialist Worker was born 25 years ago in a tiny room in Tottenham. There were, I think, five of us on the editorial board. The paper was four pages long, and none of us expected it to sell more than 5,000 copies. This is the story of what happened since. It’s not all a success story. The circulation and influence of the paper is still far too small. But there is about everything in this book a single theme, summed up in the three words ‘against the stream’. The hypocrisy and cruelty of the rich, the collaboration of the Labour leaders, the pusillanimity of the trade union leaders – all are exposed here with a single purpose: to build and extend an effective counter-attack. The mood of the paper goes up with the industrial victories of the 1970s and down with the industrial defeats of the 1990s, but its simple, clear commitment to socialism from below steadies it against super-optimism and super-pessimism. It analyses the world all right, but concentrates constantly on the real point: to change it.

Last updated on 2 September 2014