The Reason the Press Hated Livingstone: His Support for Worker’s Control

Right at the beginning of the chapter on the press’ vicious campaign against Ken Livingstone and the GLC in Mark Hollingworth’s The Press and Political Dissent: A Question of Censorship, there’s a snippet of dialogue between Livingstone one of the gentlemen of the press, in which ‘Red’ Ken – actually never a Marxist, despite the press’ claims – expressed his opinion that factories should be run by their workers, and schools by parents and teachers. This idea was simply rubbished by the interviewer. Hollingworth considers that this shows the fundamental reason why the press hated Livingstone with such bitterness. They really didn’t like the idea that ordinary people could or should run things. Hollingworth writes

During an interview with Terry Coleman, the former Daily Mail columnist who writes for the Guardian, Ken Livingstone remarked that he believed every factory should be run by its workers and each school by the parents and teachers.
‘Chaos’, replied Coleman.
‘No, no, no,’ said the GLC leader. ‘Concentrations of power produce chaos.’
‘But surely few people could run anything,’ responded Coleman. Livingstone then said that everyone was capable, given a chance, and that there was, for instance, nothing special about him.
‘Rot,’ replied Coleman.
‘No, seriously,’ said Livingstone, ‘that potential is there in everybody’.

That conversation revealed as much about Fleet Street as it did about the politics of Livingstone and the Labour group he led on the Greater London Council. It showed that one of the key factors behind the press hostility to the labour movement was their intense opposition to syndicalism – whether political, industrial or cultural. That in the eyes of editorial management, groups of ordinary people were incapable of running their own affairs. And it was neither practical nor desirable.

This attitude came into direct conflict with what the Labour group of GLC councillors were trying to do between 1981 and 1985. Their view was that people did have the potential for self-management – from tenants’ associations on council estates to workers in factories. Also that the GLC would be a political and financial peg on which a whole range of groups in London – Blacks, workers, Irish, women, gays – could hang their grievances, fulfill their capabilities and combat discrimination.

This may sound highly utopian and idealistic, but it was what the GLC administration tried to do on a local government level. ‘Socialism,’ said Livingstone in December 1983, ‘means people having day-to-day control over their own lives.’

It’s probably no surprise that this put Leninspart in conflict with the right-wing press. Thatcher talked a lot of waffle about liberating people – all that stuff about how ‘there is no such thing as society, only people’ – but the only people she wanted liberated were the owners of capital – financiers and businessmen. The workers were simply there to work, and respectfully take their orders and their beating from an increasingly macho management style. When Ken talked about liberating people, he meant it for the working class and other, traditionally excluded and marginalised groups. And that terrified the editors of the Express, Mail, Scum and the others. I can remember Ken appearing on a page of photographs of supposedly dangerous subversives published in the Sun, which one of the right-wing students at College had stuck to the wall outside his room. Under Ken’s photo was a quote, in which the scourge of the Thatcherites declared that he didn’t believe in the army, but wanted the workers to be armed to defend the factories.

Lenin introduced worker’s control in the factories for a short time during the Bolshevik coup of 1917, but quickly reversed the policy as it didn’t work. On the other hand, the experience of the Spanish anarchists and Syndicalists during the Spanish Civil War shows that workers could run industry, though some political scientists have suggested that this would probably break down in the large scale industries now common in the developed world. Nevertheless, that aspect of the anarchist experiment in Spain was successful, and it does provide some support for Ken’s views. Which is enough reason for the press to hate and fear him.

And just how much the Tories hated him is shown in one of the more bizarre stories in that chapter. Apparently one of Livingstone’s Conservative opponents woke up an hour earlier every morning so that he could give himself another hour in which to hate Livingstone. We are dealing with some seriously deranged right-wingers.

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One Response to “The Reason the Press Hated Livingstone: His Support for Worker’s Control”

  1. sdbast Says:

    Reblogged this on sdbast.

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