Don’t say this, comrade!

people's front of judeaIn the interests of comradeship Edd Mustill @ejmustill examines a few concepts that should be banned in discussions between left-wing activists. Edd invites you to add your own suggestions in the comments box below.

“People are very angry”
People get up in meetings and say this all the time, before going on to explain how the conversation they had with someone on a bus inviolably proves whatever perspective they’re trying to shoehorn into their speech. Let’s not endow anger with some innate political context. I get angry when I can’t open a tin of tomatoes, but it doesn’t make me want to go and set fire to the Treasury.

We’ve all heard anarchists talking about getting the icepick out, and Trots talking about “doing a Kronstadt.” I’m as much a fan of fatal inter-revolutionary conflict as the next comrade, but can we at least give these tragic historical events the respect they deserve, and not bring them up because your mate’s anarchist mate has taken your seat in the pub?

“People’s Front of Judea”
It was funny in the film. It hasn’t been funny since.

“There already is a social democratic/radical/revolutionary party, and it’s Labour/The Greens/The RSDLP” [delete as appropriate]
Stop trying to get everyone to disband and join your party. It’s not going to happen. There’s a reason why people aren’t in your party, and it’s probably because they don’t agree with its political programme. You’re not going to change that by banging on about how you’re the only game in town.

“There already is an anti-cuts campaign, and it’s Unite the Resistance/Coalition of Resistance/the National Shop Stewards Network/The People’s Charter” [delete as appropriate]
See above. Incidentally, the National Shop Stewards’ Network isn’t a shop stewards’ network. If only.

“Why can’t we focus on attacking our real enemy, the Tories”
When used by people who don’t want to, or can’t be bothered to, debate something. The worst expression of this is people who say “I would respond to this criticism, but I’m off to a union meeting,” or “I’ve not got time for this, I’ve got a bedroom tax meeting to go to – I haven’t seen YOU there by the way.” A century of working-class intellectuals turn in their graves every time someone does this. There’s no such thing as being too busy to think.

When used to describe anyone whose industrial strategy is different to yours. Sure, the deliberate wrecking of meetings happens in the movement. We’ve all seen it. But not many people actually want to wreck the unions. Someone mildly criticising your favourite left-wing general secretary doesn’t make them an unforgivable traitor to the cause of This Great Movement of Ours. And while we’re at it…

Please, please, please, have a coherent analysis of the unions before you use these terms. They’re important, they’re not just insults and buzzwords to throw around when it’s convenient.

“Marxists think X”
When used to mean “My group thinks X.” Saying “Marxists think capitalism should be overthrown” is fine. Saying, for example, “Marxists think the USSR was state capitalist” is disingenuous, and does a disservice to the rich and varied traditions of Marxist thought.

Spurious historical comparisons
“The Bedroom Tax is the new Poll Tax.” No it’s not. It’s completely different to the Poll Tax. Some of the tactics used by the anti-Poll Tax movement are relevant, some aren’t. Let’s talk about it properly.

socialist memeSocialist Meme Caucus
If you’re familiar with this, you’ll know why. If you’re not familiar with this, count yourself lucky.




22 responses to “Don’t say this, comrade!”

  1. Harry Paterson says:

    Spot-on. Some LOLZ to be had here :-D

  2. Jay Blackwood says:

    Excellent stuff! Although obviously your article is a bit of a distraction from attacking our real enemies, the Tories…

  3. Doug Rouxel says:

    “the right” – specifically when used to describe people who are not right wing, and merely have a slightly different analysis of a situation than you, or favour a different tactical approach. Very similar to “wreckers”.

  4. A says:

    “The cuts are bad”, “the tories are nasty”, or any variation on the above, when used in organising meetings where a bunch of people who already know these things, and have got together in a room to discuss the practicalities of how best to organise resistance to them, and end up having their time wasted by endless contributions explaining the fact that what’s going on is really, really bad. It was tiring in 2010, now it’s actively maddening.

  5. Jan Brooker says:

    ‘Comrade’ ~ when used with a tone of voice which implies ‘enemy’ or ‘splitter’ [ibid]!

  6. Jan Brooker says:

    …or ‘wrecker’

  7. Edd Mustill says:

    A – couldn’t agree more.

    Doug – I think it’s perfectly legitimate to refer to “the right” in the context of the trade union movement, the Labour Party, etc. There is obviously a “right wing” of the labour movement.

  8. john r says:

    LoL, i think i have done a couple of the above!

    mM nomination is, the classic, “last weeks meeting was brilliant and was packed out” when it was really six men and a dog, bit more realism and less hubris..

  9. Stiofan says:

    The use of the word ‘vibrant’ when describing a meeting, especially when it was in reality a room full of the same people you see every week.

  10. Harry Blackwell says:

    Good list, but one quibble I’m afraid …

    “People’s Front of Judea” IS still funny (in a ‘tragi-comedy’ way)

    and even more appropriate given we currently have three active groups called respectively: International Socialist Network, Independent Socialist Network and International Socialist Group (Scotland)!

    The left needs to unite if it is to banish it for good!

  11. Clare Solomon says:

    I’m unilaterally banning the word and concept ‘intervention’. Like we’re just supposed to smash and grab whatever we can in an environment hostile to us. No ta.
    Shop steward = work place rep.

    Socialist Meme Caucus? I dunno tbh, who else is going to give Firebox so much publicity other than Timeout and Grauniad?

  12. Neville Grundy says:

    “My branch” in phrases like, “My branch is furious about X”, when it’s referring to the 20 people who turned up to a meeting out of a branch of 1500. In addition, “my” is possessive – it’s the members’ branch, not the rep’s; I always used to say “our branch”.

  13. Doug Rouxel says:

    @ Ed – Yes, where it is accurate, then no problem, but where it’s just smearing, then it’s pointless.

  14. Pete says:

    The one that always gets on my nerves is “What comrades fail to understand”… which means your all thick because you don’t agree with what my party says

    And the other one is when three people from the same groupette give almost word for word the same speech, if it didn’t convince the first time chances are it won’t convince the second time, and the third time will send folks scurrying off to the pub.

    • Neville Grundy says:

      There’s a lovely throwaway line in Life of Brian: “What Jesus fails to appreciate is that it’s the meek who are the problem.”

  15. theo says:

    One of the main probs with any initiative like this is obviously that the habits ED describes are going to surface and they are symptoms of the partisanship which many on the left have grown used to. When that partisanship becomes organizational maneuvering it has real destructive power – witness the previous Socialist Alliance. Some key principles might limit the impact, but I am interested to know how the organizational agenda and band-wagon jumping of in particular some revolutionary groups can be prepared for in advance and circumvented. Sadly, that is one of the first things which any genuine attempt at a new united working class socialist front must deal with.

  16. gino says:

    …being lectured on the true meaning of some obscure utterance by Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, etc… and why [insert other leftist group here] have got it it all wrong. Let’s leave the dogma behind and discuss what’s relevant to people in post-industrial Britain, not pre-revolutionary Russia.

    • micheline mason says:

      yes please! There was a lovely design somewhere on this website which looked like three dancing figures. Something like that would be much better.
      I am not even sure the word ‘Left’ isn’t an anachronism now.

  17. gino says:

    Oh… and any leftist cliche that relates to a bygone revolutionary era – like the banner at the top of the website. It’s not where people are at today and the visual language has been appropriated as T-shirt graphics, advertising, etc. and has totally lost it’s currency.

    If we are to create a new party of the left let’s do away with lazy cliches and talk to people in a language that’s relevant to them and what the organisation is trying to achieve.

    • Lee says:

      Spot on! We’re talking about creating a new organisation in 2013 and using the verbal and visual language of the Soviet Union from almost a century ago…

      • Neville Grundy says:

        I tend to agree. As a rep in the PCS for 24 years, I used to cringe at the reps (who were after all civil servants) who’d address meetings or conference as “brothers and sisters” – especially if their contribution turned out to be sneering and confrontational.

  18. Jimmy Higgins says:

    Anent john r’s contribution in the comment section, the two things you never want to hear in the summation of a demonstration:

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