Editors' Letter

EDITION: 5th Birthday.

Updates on what we've been up to and previewing TWT 2022.

With our 5th Birthday edition—which we will be experimenting with publishing in installments from the beginning of October, followed with the ebook for subscribers—we will be marking five years of New Socialist. We wanted to publish this letter in advance of the edition, in part to explain the delay in publishing, and in part to preview this year’s The World Transformed (TWT).

TWT 2022

TWT 2022 will take place in Liverpool, between the 24th and 27th of September. tickets are available here. It runs alongside Labour conference—but in the Bad New Times of Starmidor (to borrow Tom Blackburn’s coinage from his wonderful, sharp analysis, forthcoming in the Birthday edition), who cares about that any more?

New Socialist will be participating in TWT in a few ways. Our editor josie sparrow has organised a panel called Feminism is for Every Body, where she will speak about feminism, class contradictions, and the question of ‘nature’. Joining her will be the abolitionist Afro-Marxist Shanice Octavia McBean, feminist elder Lynne Segal, Lucy from United Sex Workers, and transfeminist philosopher Mijke van der Drift, each offering their own perspectives and thoughts towards feminist solidarity. Feminism is for Every Body will take place on Sunday 25th September at 19.30 in the Black-E Studio, and all are welcome.

As well as this panel, I’m going to be speaking on the “Who are the Working Class?” panel, along with our columnist Kate Flood. Another of our editors, Tom Williams, is on both of the “Socialism 101: Tools for Strategy and Action” panels, along with NS writer and comrade Amardeep Singh Dhillon. We are also particularly excited about the Acid Football panel, including our comrade Juliet Jacques, David Wearing discussing British foreign policy (unfortunately these two events clash), the Copwatch session on “how to intervene in policing and state power”, the panel on Ireland and the British state, our comrade Zahra Bei from No More Exclusions, speaking on a great panel on police violence against kids, the Institute of Race Relations 50th Birthday panel and members of Palestine Action talking about how to shut down an Israeli arms factory.

Of course, as well as the various panels, a major part of TWT is the chance to socialise with comrades and to meet people in person, unmediated by the increasing limitations and drudgery imposed by Twitter. We really hope to meet some of you there—at one of our panels, or in the pub.

As well as the panels, a major part of TWT is the chance to socialise with comrades, unmediated by the increasing drudgery imposed by Twitter. We really hope to meet some of you there—at one of our panels, or in the pub.

After TWT

The full 5th Birthday edition will be published just after TWT. This will feature my history of New Socialist, the first part of which we previewed for subscribers (including with an audio version and a first (!) NS podcast discussion with josie). It will also include Hasan E. T. on Sudan, Tom Blackburn on ‘Starmidor’ and Mike Phipps’s Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow, josie on ‘slowness as method’, and much more—as well as original artwork by Emir Uslu.

Following this will be the much-anticipated Class. We’ve now received most of the drafts, and it’s shaping up to be an incredibly exciting and important contribution to many of the debates on class in Britain. As well as opening up new areas of discussion (and probably controversy), it also will feature Owen Hatherley’s definitive treatment of the affective world of Transformers within capitalism’s spatial shifts over the longue durée. We’re really excited about this, and can’t wait to share more with you when the time comes.

Subscribers and subscriptions

Since our last Editors’ Letter, we have started our subscribers’ meetings. These have, in general, been successful, and we will be continuing with them. They have been decently, if not brilliantly attended – a case, in part, I imagine, of participatory socialism taking up too many evenings, and here on tasks which could be left to specialists (more on this in my forthcoming history of NS). The level of discussion, though, has been of a very high level, and it has been useful and encouraging for us. The discussions we have had in these meetings helped us significantly in shaping our plans for the Class edition, and for future editions; have helped us think through how to structure New Socialist; and have (alongside the largely positive reception for our “pilot”) persuaded us to start a New Socialist podcast for subscribers. We will aim to do one podcast per month, and will be beginning it properly with the publication of our 5th Birthday edition. We hope that the podcast might encourage more comrades to subscribe, and we have received fairly encouraging feedback on this.

In the last Editors’ Letter, we launched the #NS500 subscription drive. The initial push was relatively successful: we reached our first target of £2,500 in monthly subscriptions fairly comfortably—a point at which, we conceptualised, New Socialist would be broadly sustainable. Reaching that target was incredibly helpful, both financially, and also in terms of the encouragement that it gave us. Seeing that comrades were willing contribute to keep New Socialist going was incredibly meaningful. We are very grateful to everyone for their support. We are still running our birthday offer and will be until the end of October, where with an annual subscription costs the equivalent of 10 months.

Since we reached the target, subscriptions have fallen back a bit, and we have now dipped below the target again. Perhaps this is not a huge surprise, particularly in the middle of a “cost of living crisis” (at TWT I want to try to explore a little the limits of this conceptualisation, but it does as a shorthand here). We are aware – and in many ways, this is exactly as it should be for an independent socialist publication – that much of our audience does not have a huge amount of spare income. We remain committed to making our work accessible for free, and are extremely grateful to those subscribers who, through their contributions, make it possible for others to access that work without paying, registering (i.e. paying with their personal data), or being exposed to adverts.

Another factor in the falling off of subscriptions is, I imagine, the delays in our publication schedule, and the wider lack of publishing over the last few months. I want to apologise for the delay with the editions, and to thank everyone, especially writers, for their patience. I think it’s worth explaining a little around this, not least because it feeds into announcing some changes we’re going to make with how we publish.

A new structure for New Socialist

In contrast to the Corbyn years, in which a very rapid politicisation and the capacity of the movement, collectively, to generate ideas and serve as a basis of reflection meant we were often overwhelmed with high quality pitches, often for fairly short pieces (at least relative to what we have been publishing in our editions), the Bad New Times have meant that this is much less the case. The mode of necessary political intervention has also changed: rapid responses dependent on events, or even the news cycle, are of very limited use without a political project on a national scale which can act a basis for hoped-for practical effects. Increasingly, the pitches we do get outside of editions are long, far less tied in with events, and often require a fair amount of editing.

Our intention with the division between themed editions and Transmissions was to retain a capacity for fairly rapid response. However, this feels increasingly inappropriate for the tasks of the conjuncture, including the way in which this shapes the kind of work that is pitched to us. It also places a practical burden on us as editors, which is limiting. We are therefore, going to be changing how we organise publishing in the near future.

We will be keeping our themed editions, which we will be aiming to publish about every six months. We plan to alternate these between the sort of rigorous explorations we have published so far, and themes that are a bit less theoretically (and therefore editorially) demanding. This may also give us the opportunity to bring in guest editors.

Meanwhile, we will be cutting back on Transmissions, publishing only very short pieces, especially statements from groups, which aim for a rapid effect: whether to challenge lies and distortions, as with Decrim Now’s Open Letter, to intervene with arguments into democratic processes, as with the Corona Contract article in advance of UCU’s main congress, or to help promote a fundraising effort, as with the United Sex Workers crowdfunder announcement. We are very happy that the comrades at USW reached their target, and have been able to join the Judicial Review challenging the strip club ban— despite the best efforts of Edinburgh City Council to prevent them from doing so. If we did help at all with the success of the crowdfunder, then that suggests a continued usefulness for certain kinds of Transmissions pieces.

This sort of short, timely publication was always the intent of Transmissions, and we don’t feel the format can really bear the sorts of pieces that have ended up there. In cutting back on what we publish there, we will be returning to its original aims—even though that likely means, given the conjuncture, publishing in Transmissions much less regularly than we had originally envisioned.

We do still receive pitches that are interesting and important, but that do not fit with either the theme of an upcoming edition, or the intended format of Transmissions. Our intention is to collect these together in smaller mini-editions, perhaps every two to three months, depending on what we receive.

We hope that this will make the longer pieces more of an ‘event’; and, as such, less likely to get overlooked or missed – as I worry has happened with some of what we have published over the last few months. We will also be able to offer a bit more to subscribers by collecting the mini-edition pieces into an ebook, and this may also help to ensure they get the attention they deserve.

The more regular editions will also mean that we will be able to write an editorial for each, including analysis of the current situation. This will, further, give us a context within which we can engage with important events which we have struggled, for whatever reason, to get pieces on (there’ll be more on this in my “History of NS”).

These changes will also enable for more organised responses to previous editions – it has been striking how publishing Ecologies has led to us receiving a number of very strong pitches, both on ecology in general, and in response to particular themes and arguments. If our intention is not to offer a last word but to open up discussions and lines of thought, these changes should help with that. They will also offer a clearer space for those who might feel slighted by a polemic in a previous themed edition to respond. (We had one potential response to an argument in Ecologies but in the end nothing came of it.).

Comrades may also have noticed that we have changed the New Socialist Twitter handle. We will discuss this a little more in the 5th Birthday edition, but essentially, whilst there are advantages to situating ourselves—especially in situating ourselves as emphatically not North American—using “UK” in our handle has become increasingly untenable. For some time now, we have attempted to avoid its use in pieces we publish as far as is practical. (Some questions remain around, for example, how best to tackle critiques of analyses that take ‘the UK’ as their object, and we are continuing to experiment with this to find what works.) For us, and for many readers in Ireland, the term’s use implies that we consider the imposed polity of ‘the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’, and therefore the British occupation of the six counties, to be legitimate. This is not the case,and is not an impression we wish to give.

The work of production

It is worth mentioning, briefly, some of the less interesting motivations for this restructure. At the present level of subscriptions, we are able to pay two editors the equivalent of around 13 hours per week at London Living Wage. Not only does this paid time not cover the amount of work necessary for New Socialist, but it also means that both josie and I have to do other paid work. Indeed, one reason for our not publishing a great deal over the last few months is that I had to undertake full-time teaching work over the summer months. Equally, our other editors have to make their paid work a priority over New Socialist, so there is nobody to step in when we are overwhelmed.

Our hope was (and still is, though it feels further away than it did) that we would be able to move towards a situation where we could pay another editor for some work, and increase what josie and I are paid so that we were less reliant on other paid work. It feels sensible, however, to plan on the basis of a resource situation that is not radically different to what we have now. A clearer sense of the timescales for publishing, and more capacity to clearly divide our time between New Socialist and other work, would enable us to be more efficient. Moreover, if it is the case that publishing in great bursts, then going relatively quiet, inhibits subscription growth, then a more regular publishing structure would presumably help a little with our resource problems.

We want, however, to resist as much as possible the compulsion for constant, 24/7 production and infinite growth. We want to have sufficient resources to flourish, without being wealthy. We want to do the work that we love, but we don’t want our lives to turn into an extended PR campaign. Régis Debray has a sharp analysis of the need for the modern intellectual to think of themselves “as being in the middle of a promotion campaign every day, especially during the holidays”. Under such a regime, he observes, “it is up to everyone to maximise [their] fame by making the most effective interventions possible in the media.”1 However much we might wish it otherwise, the intellectual production of the left is an attention economy in which, to quote Wilde again, “there is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about”. Indeed, it is likely to be more so than licensed intellectual production, as. lacking its own official forms, it is more reliant on social media. josie writes more on this in her forthcoming essay for the 5th Birthday edition. Our hope is that the proposed new structure will offer us a means of inhabiting this contradiction in a way that is generative.

Finally—particularly because, as I finish writing this, the funeral of Elizabeth Windsor is taking place—we’d like to reiterate, in case there was any doubt, we are an unequivocally republican publication, and that (following, for example, Gerrard Winstanley’s reflections on the political effects of the execution of another King Charles) republicanism, for us means, not the mere replacement of the monarchy by a President, but the long and total rupture with the social, international, intimate, and ecological relations which the British Crown incarnates.

We’d like to reiterate we are an unequivocally republican publication, and that republicanism, for us means, the total rupture with the social, international, intimate, and ecological relations which the British Crown incarnates.

We hope that you will enjoy our 5th Birthday edition, and it will be lovely to see some of you in Liverpool.

  1. Régis Debray. [1979]. 1981. Teachers, Writers, Celebrities: The Intellectuals of Modern France. Translated by David Macey. London: New Left Books. p. 220.