I’ve been writing about politics on the internet for six years. This week I’ve been thinking about why I do it, and whether it’s done any good.
When I started, the loose idea was to write about issues I thought were important in accessible language.
Classically, the radical left has been good at theorising about capitalism and society, and atrocious at explaining its insights to people without PhDs. It’s managed to side-line the two biggest issues of them all – global poverty and the environment.
That was bad, the logic ran. An ignorant population equals dismal prospects for socialism. Inaction on climate crisis equals planetary devastation. A dead planet equals no anything. And by writing, I would try and help change all that.
Explaining how capitalist society ‘worked’ in plain English had the potential to nudge us ever so slightly closer to socialism, I decided.
Educating left-wingers about looming climate crisis and suffering in the global south might encourage them to take both more seriously.
I thought that all routes to radical change had probably been welded shut, and that the species would be near-inevitably wiped out by ecological collapse – but that there was still enough chance that a blog could do something useful to make it worth pouring hours of my life into.
Miraculously, I managed to be wrong on both counts. Socialism wasn’t doomed. And blogging, on the whole, was a complete waste of time.
Humanity’s future doesn’t look much less dire than it did when I started out – but, at very least, it turned out there were a lot more people hankering for left-wing politics that I ever would’ve believed in 2011 (or on the 7th of June 2017 for that matter). A radical socialist – albeit one playing a middle-of-the-road 20th century social democrat with a manifesto to match – just led Labour to 40% in a general election.
And while blogging undoubtedly has its uses, particularly when it’s done by writers with more skill, wit, tenacity and originality than me, my blog has achieved next to nothing.
For six years, I’ve deluded myself into thinking that I was doing useful political work. In fact, I wasn’t – and I would’ve been much more effective as a political actor if I’d got out and been a proper activist instead.
When I’ve actually done what I set out to do – break down complex topics to make them easier for non-experts to digest – I think I’ve done a reasonably good job.
But virtually no-one has seen anything I’ve written. I think it would be desperate optimism to suggest that even ten people had read a post of mine and had their view of the world substantially changed by it.
And that’s completely understandable. I’m terrible at promotion, terrible at social media – and the internet’s already choked with blogs and think-pieces and hot takes fresh out the oven, many of them a lot more relevant and interesting than mine.
In of itself, it doesn’t overly bother me. I can’t go back and rerun the last six years of my life. Now, I’m much more interested in what I do next.
We’re faced with the best chance socialism has had in seventy years. If I want to help make the most of it, it’s obvious to me that I need to forget writing and start organising and campaigning instead.
I’ve finally reported for duty at my Constituency Labour Party, and been drafted into a couple of non-voting exec roles. When the next election comes, I’ll go to the marginals near me, and deliver leaflets, and stuff envelopes, and maybe even knock on doors.
But that’s the easy bit. I still think the best route to lasting political change lies outside parliament – and encouraging people to club together and build structures and institutions outside established centres of power is much, much harder than getting them to vote for you in elections. Somehow, I need to work out how I can use my limited time and energy to try make that happen, too.
As for writing – I’m not going to stop. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a boy. But from now on I’m going to write completely and unashamedly for myself. I will write whatever the hell I like, and won’t make any serious effort to promote it at all.
That’s partly because I can’t be bothered to promote it any more. And it’s partly because I think the most helpful thing I can do as far as spreading the socialist gospel is concerned is shut up and get out of the way.
The internet is already saturated with content. It’s hard enough to find incisive radical commentary as it is without me adding to the background noise. And it’s hard enough for women, people of colour, LGBTIQ people, disabled people and others to get their voices heard without yet another white, male, able-bodied, heterosexual cisgender person wrestling them for the limelight.
Instead, I’m going to go away and educate myself (something I was very serious about in the earlier days, but got lazier with as time went on), amplify writers and outlets I think need to be read and heard, and, above all else, try and be politically useful in the real world.
One day I’ll probably ‘come back’ – in the sense that I’ll return with content at least partly designed for other people to consume. There’s something I’ve always wanted to do that would combine all my passions in one, but it’ll probably take years of practice to get there, if I get there at all.
In the meantime, I’d like to thank Glenn Hanson, a man on twitter I’ve never met, who’s been the closest thing I’ve had to a regular ‘reader’ over the past few years. If you’ve also dropped by from time to time, I wish you all the best.
In the geological time frame, all of us will be dead in a millisecond. For the future, and for great justice, let’s use what time we have to make the world a less terrible place.