Let’s explain what socialism is before we call ourselves socialist

blogHaringey Left Unity supporter Joe Lo looks at what we can learn from the King Blues.

Last year I went to a gig in Sheffield with two artists performing who I think represent the two paths Left Unity can go down. Headlining was Billy Bragg who’s been barking earnestly away for 30 years whilst society’s gone down the drain despite his best efforts. The other band was the King Blues, younger, angrier and more exciting. What I like about the King Blues, and what Left Unity can learn from them, is the way they relate politics to everyday life. Instead of talking about Patriarchy, they simply ask why it is that some women feel the need to buy 5 different bottles of shampoo? very good question but their most relevant lyric comes in a song called “what if punk never happened”. In it, they imagine the path towards a dystopian future and one of the reasons this happens is, in their words, that “the protests were full of throwbacks calling each other comrade, of course the young folks attendance started to fade”. This makes the point that, to engage the young and uninitiated, our language and terms of reference need to be accessible. In this spirit I propose a list of words that we should be wary of:

Comrade
It’s a lovely concept. A gender-neutral pronoun which shows we’re all on the same side but what images does the word bring up? Stalin, Lenin and Marx sitting in a room congratulating each other. More importantly, it’s not a word used in everyday life so we need to drop it.

Working Class
In a meeting in Haringey somebody expressed concern about the continued talk of the working class. “What about teachers?” he said, they’re middle class and are getting screwed over as much as the rest of us. You might say that teachers are working class and I’d agree with you. As a Marxist, I consider everyone who works for a living, or has to rely on the welfare state, working class. However that’s not what the phrase mean in ordinary speech. Class has come to depend on all sorts of arbitrary consumer choices. Like humous? You’re middle class. Like sugar in your tea? You’re working class. Don’t like either? You’re upper class. This definition isn’t wrong, it’s just different. It’s designed for pollsters, sociologists and advertisers not for people like us who are interested in the division of political power. My definition of working class is much closer to the Occupy concept of the 99% but that’s also a loaded term so instead let’s use the phrase “working people”. It’s the same as the Marxist definition of “working class” but with less connotations attached to it. We need to make it clear that you can eat as much humous as you like, as long as you don’t own a large a chain of businesses then you’re the right class for Left Unity.

Reformist/ Revolutionary
What is a revolution if it’s not a series of radical reforms? For me, this whole distinction is a way for “revolutionaries” to smear “reformists” by which they mean anyone who doesn’t already identify themselves with an explicitly revolutionary ideology like that of “Trotskyism”, “Leninism” or “Anarchism”. This definition of revolutionary excludes the vast majority of actual revolutionaries. The Egyptians, Venezuelans and Cubans are all out as is Alexis Tsipiras and his Greek Syriza party. All these groups were inspired, not by the ideas of dead Russians, but by the desire to radically change (reform) their material conditions.

Trotskyist/Leninist/Bolshevik
This isn’t an attack on those ideologies themselves but what do people think of when they hear them? I know my friends think back to dimly-recalled GCSE Russian history lessons. Older people probably think of the Soviet Union they grew up hearing horror stories about. OK, so maybe people have got the wrong impression. Maybe we need to re-educate them and recover the good name of these glorious leaders but it’s not going to happen. Are we a Russian history discussion club or a political party? Do we want to debate the legacy of Lenin or transform modern Britain?

Socialist
Socialism means different things to different people. Ed Miliband, Ken Loach and Stalin have all said they’re socialists. Two of them are lying. Which one depends on your personal definition of Socialism. At a Left Unity meeting we had a debate about the word socialist. It was said that we have to be honest with people but if I tell a stranger I’m a socialist, and they think that socialism is the same as supporting the Soviet Union, am I really being honest with them? One time I was chatting pleasantly away with a Czech woman in a café in Sheffield, I mentioned that I was a socialist and she stormed away saying the socialists had killed her grandparents. A friend of mine, knowing that I’m a socialist, said I should write a blog, sincerely adding “they’ll love it in China and Russia”. You only get one chance to make a first impression. Let’s explain what socialism is before we call ourselves socialist.

Capitalist/Anti-Capitalist
I’ve heard people at meetings endlessly saying things like “I don’t want to be part of a party that tries to reform Capitalism”, “Capitalism’s rotten to the core, we need to get rid of Capitalism”. What I’ve never heard is someone explain what Capitalism is and what getting rid of it would look like. For me, Capitalism is where businesses aren’t owned by their workers which is a ridiculous and undemocratic arrangement. Does this make me an anti-capitalist? I would say it does, many would say it doesn’t. If we can’t define what Capitalism is then how can we decide what’s the point of even talking about whether we’re an anti-capitalist party, still less falling out over it. Furthermore, the vast majority of British people don’t define themselves as anti-capitalist and so any leaflet from an “anti-capitalist” party will go straight in the bin. A party that says they want workers to control their workplaces on the other hand, re-build the welfare state and re-nationalise the railways and utilities on the other hand sounds good to everyone.

I’ve got a couple of points
I’ve found that when people say this at meetings it means they’ve got a speech prepared in which they’ll attempt to spell out what’s wrong with society and how to fix it. This’ll go on forever and will bore people away from Left Unity for good. Keep it as short as possible, people have short attention spans and are impatient for change.

Finally, this is not a comment on what policies Left Unity should adopt or how radical it should be. Saying “Revolutionary” less won’t make us less revolutionary. The people who’ve transformed the world haven’t been people living in the past. They’ve been men and women of their time. We need to be of our time and reclaim the future because, in the words of the King Blues, the future’s not what it used to be.


85 comments

85 responses to “Let’s explain what socialism is before we call ourselves socialist”

  1. buddyhell says:

    “As a Marxist, I consider everyone who works for a living, or has to rely on the welfare state, working class”.

    Don’t tell that to the IWCA, they think that all working class people live on council estates and have no education (or aren’t interested in reading and learning). Class is determined by one’s relation to capital. It’s as simple as that.

    • Jenny Almeida says:

      I would like to agree with Joe Lo. I have read some of the ‘platforms’ and they are full of leftist jargon. i want a party that a lot of people will vote for and all this jargon will put ordinary people off. What is a ‘troika’ for instance? No don’t tell me! I am against capitalism and want to see things organised for the good of all people and not for this system but i do not want to differentiate between ‘classes’. We are all victims of this system including the capitalists. Most of us own something. Capitalism is destroying the natural world and is anti environmental as it needs to grow and grow to exist and to set up businesses where wages are lowest because it is competitive in nature. This needs to be put in plain English so that our party can become a mass party. All this class war stuff turns me off. At our local election I saw a very good leaflet by the socialist party which said ‘vote for yourself for a change’. That kind of line is what I would like to see. It explained why capitalism serves nobody and is bad for all. Please can we have more of this kind of explanation without the jargon.

      • steve says:

        people in Ireland and in Greece know what is the “troika”

      • Anthony says:

        Most of us do own something and no one should really want to take these things away. What I want to see is democratic control of the means of production. Until that time I can’t see how we can work towards a decent world.
        Our challenge, as a group and as individuals, is to convince people that life needn’t be a day to day struggle to make ends meet; convince them that they do have the power to change their own lives for the better. This is the first step, I think. Free their minds and the rest will follow.

    • simone daniels says:

      i find im not interested in supporting the rights of affluent workers priviledged by their race, cultural capital and education i want to help find a voice for the under priviledged and marginalised-

  2. Jed Bland says:

    The most fundamental issue that faces us is between a “mixed economy” and rampant unrestricted neo-liberalism. I’m trying to think of a more accessible description than mixed economy. One could use “Social market economy” which was what rebuilt Germany after the war, but this would be easily confused with “Socialist market economy” which is what the Chinese are moving away from. Regardless of the diversions this government is putting up like tax avoidance or equal marriage, it is this really fundamental issue that we must address.

    • John Penney says:

      In many ways, Jed, your claim that the choices that face us are only between a “mixed economy” and and “unrestricted neo-liberalism” encapsulates perfectly where we are today in terms of most potential (non Far Left sect) recruits to Left Unity. Now I actually agree with you that in terms of the present day “politics of the possible” we are limited in our initial policy and programmic ambitions. We should indeed be entirely focussing only on political objectives which aim to blunt and turn back as many features as possible of the current “Austerity Offensive” , both in the UK, but also in solidarity actions where possible with radical democratic movements overseas, particularly in Europe.

      This does mean that we should prioritise campaigns like , opposing the privatisation of the NHS, opposing the “Bedroom Tax, the cuts in welfare, the demonisation of immigrants and ethnic minorities, push for radical redistributive taxation, campaign for the renationalistion of our basic utilities and key industries, the adoption of effective job creating regional and economic develpment policies, building hundreds of thousands of new council houses and improve the existing stock, etc. These sorts of “reformist demands” (ie, moderating capitalism’s excesses not replacing it) are quite radical enough in the current economic world crisis to pitch any movement/party seriously demanding them into a serious confrontation with the domestic and international capitalist classes !

      It is here we reach the dividing point however between the ” complete reformists” and the “tactical reformists”. I have no doubt that a radical Left mass movement of sufficient size and determination can potentially win significant concessiomns in the Austerity Agenda – but only up to a point where the International Money Market and Big Business interests see a “line in the sand” which they, not us, will determine, has been breached . At that point a major programme of economic and political sabotage of a radical Left government determined to carry out the “reformist” agenda outlined above would come into play bigtime – and the “Allende Chilean” scenario would start to be played out AGAIN , this time in the UK. Remember that as a consequence of Cold War NATO planning there is an established operational gameplan for every NATO country for the removal of a democratically elected government adjudged by NATO to be “Communist”. A radical reformist government trying to counterpose the interests of the majority as against the interests of the 1% of supperrich and their international allies, would undoubdedly trigger that process.

      Today there actually is no permanent, decisive, “Keynsian” or “reformist” solution to the profound systemic world crisis of profitability that capitalism once more finds itself in. The last time world capitalism was in such a pickle , in the 1930’s, the “solution” cost tens of millions of lives ie, fascism, war, and the destruction of vast amounts of “old capital” – before capitalism could take off again on a new growth wave .

      So, yes, I am a “tactical reformist”. A radical Left party with a radical , uncompromising, reforming agenda, is undoubtedly the realistic, appropriate, stance today if we are to build a mass party of working people to tackle the Austerity Offensive. With it we should be able to win some real concessions – but it can’t “solve” capitalism’s deep systemic crisis of profitability, either in the UK, or worldwide. Eventually the simple act of continuing to obstruct capitalism’s globalised mutually competitive drive to reduce all of us the the wage rates and living conditions of a rightless migrant worker in Guandong Province, will draw any mass movement leading that opposition into a fundamental confrontation with the existing socio-economic status quo, ie, whether we retreat in disarray in the face of capitalism’s greed driven economic imperatives – or go forward to replace it entirely with a socio-economic system based on democratically controlled common ownership and rational planning, ie, “socialism”.

      Not the issue for today though. Today we need to build an effective mass movement of resistance on a radical reforming platform.

      • Andrew Crystall says:

        No, it does need to be heard today. If you’re explicitly socialist, then I’m afraid that mutualists like myself, who view largely state control of capital as just as bad as largely capitalist state control of capital – the problem being the single “source” – are not welcome.

        Moreover, the radicals of this piece are not the left, they’re the Tories. They’re the ones trying to reshape Britain to end their long-term gradual fall in the polls…

  3. Hannah says:

    Fantastic article, I’ve been saying all this for ages!

  4. Oliver Mars says:

    This is a list of the most idiotic ideas I’ve heard coming out of Left Unity so far.
    How about this: you don’t be lazy and you explain to people what these things actually mean instead of watering down your politics?! It’s called talking to people, they appreciate it when you talk them through misunderstood concepts.
    I find it hard to believe that you’re a Marxist, I’ve only considered myself a Marxist for about a year and I’m only 20, and I’ve explained these terms to friends and people many times before and after-woulds, they get it and thank you for it.
    This terrible smacks of “Oh I know why the Left have failed, it’s our advertising!!”
    WRONG. As a Marxist you’d be able to make the correct objective analysis of we the Left and Socialists have fallen before, not make excuses about people being afraid of words.

    If you have the right politics then you should be able to explain to people what they actually mean and what they stand for!

    • Joe Lo says:

      But you don’t always get a chance to explain things in depth to people. In a meeting for example where there’s no room for detailed explanations. Or on a flyer. Or a poster. Or a 30-second interview on the news. I think our communication/advertising is a large part of the problem.

      • Patrick D. says:

        Oliver,

        it is good to see your dedication. But have you tried reading Das Kapital? Trust me, the content may be excellent, but it is hard work! To put it another way; Only the academic right (e.g. the economist) ever bother referring to Adam Smith (Capitalisms answer to Marx), but even they will not use the 18th century language contained in his “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” book. We are now in the 21st century and should use 21st century language.

        Jo Lo, I thought your article was excellent.

    • Ceannaire says:

      I’m the same age as you and I couldn’t agree more!

    • laurence says:

      Totally agree,
      anything worth saying is worth refining and struggling to explain properly. To fear use of tainted words in explaining things is to give in to the old forces of propaganda.
      To regard truths as so complex that they ought to be glossed over is to give up piece by piece on the humble duty of one human being to another. The simple compassion in sharing understanding and the courage to weather the tirade of cognitive dissonant rages directed back at one when one tries are key to improving the lot of humankind and negating the dangerous temptation to behave less democratically over time.

  5. Oliver Mars says:

    Of course you don’t need to be throwing hardcore Socialist language around when talking to a person or contact for the very first time, but that doesn’t mean that you should never explain it to them, or ask them what they think about it.

    Explain things properly and people will get it.

  6. Tom says:

    This is a very readable introduction to what socialism is. http://johnmolyneux.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/future-socialist-society.html

  7. Lloyd Berriman says:

    A great piece, in my opinion. I strongly think “ordinary people” should be the demographic – encourage them to opt into LU, rather than the implied “target” demographic that LU aims at. Needs lots more words, but that’s the essence. Lots of other stuff will logically flow from this. As you, I see far too much effort being put into “pushing right” from the Left fringes, when we need all hands to push Left from where we are. Too much belief too, turning politics into a religious thing. I don’t want one nurse, one vote on my heart surgery!!!!

  8. darren says:

    Ok. On its own merits that was an interesting article. However, I am getting a little frustrated by the fact that such a high percentage of the articles posted on the LU site are focused the need to modify language. I agree with the notion and I believe it is important to learn some new lessons but it’s coming to look like an obsession. I’m also concerned that jargon and cliches are being over-attributed as a factor in the weakness of the left over the previous two decades. In fact LU is beginning to resemble Occupy in its outlook, rejecting ‘failed old’ methods in favour of ‘horizontal organisation’, which was very nice, but Occupy faded as swiftly as it rose to prominence because it could not organise coherently. I get pissed off by Marxists acting dogmatically, but I can’t get pissed off with Marxism because it remains the most thorough and enduring critique of the capitalist system and therefore, in my opinion the most important philosophical component in any potential movement against capitalism. I really want new young people to get involved in a movement against capitalism, but it is important they learn some old ideas as well as creating some new ones of their own.
    My solution would be that instead of continuing to obsess about language, why not ask people to use their commitment to modernised language to write articles about other topics such as
    – the need to get low paid private sector workers unionised
    – how to put local councils under pressure to stop them from cutting vital service
    – proposing new alternative economic plans
    – negotiating with TUSC (and others) about next years local elections
    – a debate about the pros and cons of the People’s Assembly
    – means of harnessing the ideas of localism as part of a radical alternative
    – strategies for the campaign against the bedroom tax
    – how to intensify the issue of corruption, linking Hillsborough, phone-hacking, Operation Yewtree etc
    – how to intensify the issue of tax avoidance and the UK tax havens in Jersey, Cayman Islands etc
    – a general discussion about the role of the unions
    – some general articles on recent British left wing history

    • pete b says:

      Agree with Darren:
      I’m focused on trying to build the labour movement in the voluntary sector. That is where i work, so that’s where i need to get involved with a union.
      Like most of voluntary sector, the association I am employed by does not recognise a union. There is quite a routine bullying attitude of management, they demand you work well above your role and wage, there is nepotism in advancement. I am working in a front line service (homelessness) but spend most time recording and producing paperwork, stats to meet targets, referral forms etc etc.
      We are government funded but the contracts are dished out to all manner of inappropriate “companies”. For many years the voluntary sector has become more and more corporate and business orientated. They act as private “companies” and make a “surplus” not a profit.
      There is a massive alienation to be working in a low paid public funded service, to be motivated by a social conscience to assist the homeless yet have a bullying management that want to cut your terms and conditions, wages, job to maintain their “surplus”.
      You might think a not for profit organisation who have resources might say, we’re making money hear, we have an overall surplus so we will cross subsidise our services for homeless, or refugees, people with mental health issues.

      If there is such an association currently doing this then I’d love to hear about it.
      The salvation Army have been co-operating with DWP to have workfare/forced labour workers to come and work for them for nothing! They are also restruturing, and announced a schedule of annual wage cuts for next three years!
      Many workers in voluntary sector are alienated and have lots of issues they want to be taken up with management but there is no culture of free speech or of people challenging the way things are run.

      The voluntary sector has been with us for 30 years now and it is growing bigger and bigger. Its success is based on the closure and privitisation of public services. Tendering out services is now the main system in Council Social Services. nhs commissioning and in other state funding.
      The present round of cuts means paying less for the same contracts.
      How will these cuts be met in the voluntary sector?

      Because they do not recognise a union the way the cuts are implimented is entirely at these companies managers decision. Many are slashing pay and conditions, reducing sick pay, redundancy provision. New starters start with ever worse terms and conditions. Some like “turning Point” and “Futures”, swanswell trust, St Basils and many others are sacking their workforce and re-employing on new, much worse terms and conditions.

      The left have got to stop thinking of this sector as wooly and liberal, maybe a bit radical because many of the “companies” used to be progressive campaigning organisations.
      This is not the situation now, these are business’s and they act like business’s. They are profiting from being un-unionised at the expense of their workforces. They do not exist to support the vulnerable, they exist to fulfill a commercial contract with public funding and to win more contracts.

      For Example: Housing associations are funded by government, and collect (increasing) rents and have private investment. They can raise business bonds, they are given credit ratings and fight to retain “triple A” ratings.
      Not surprisingly they have little real interest in what they term their “customers”, their interest is to remain profitable, continue to grow bigger, more mergers, more economic weight, more managers on fat wages, more directors on outrageous wages like £150k.

      Where workers have started to struggle to have a union recognised in the voluntary sector, they face a lot of obsticles. The left should assist them to overcome these difficulties and use what weight it has within the Labour Movement to support workers unionisation campaigns.

      We have to fight to bring standards up for all workers in this sector whether employed by private, voluntary or public sector providers. There should be standard rates of pay, terms and conditions, rights at work, recognition of unions etc. Only by achieving this can workers stop the race to the bottom. Service providers should not be competing on the basis of our pay and conditions. This is not competition, its a bosses charter. Its totally unfair on workers in this sector whose labour is diminished and valued less and less.

      Getting organised is difficult and is about risking your job. There is such a culture of fear of reprisal and such a fear of losing your job (in a period of such high unemployment)that many want change, would support having a recognised union but are scared.

      Trying to impose on the bullying culture, a new aspect of standing up for ourselves, joining a union, building the union, getting the union to challenge the cuts taking place, getting trained and building a network of stewards and health and safety reps. Its quite a task. You have to fear that as this becomes effective a senior manager may finger you for redundancy, find a “capability” issue, question your sickness record.

      Its hard as an individual, working in a climate of fear, to not also feel that fear. Its a modern equivalent of the pioneering trade unionists. The difference should be that the existing weight of the Labour Movement will be brought to bear on the Voluntary sector. That there are existing resources and experience that will combat these difficulties.
      Well so far this is not really the case in my experience.
      Sorry to all for using the word bureaucracy, but the trade union bureaucracy remains powerful. In unions like UNISON, GMB, the bureaucracy remains all powerful, in unison it has expelled or suspended left activists.

      The officials in the unions concerned want to recruit in the voluntary sector but they do not want to give birth to a radical rank and file in the voluntary sector. Workers breaking from fear and reaction(of their employment)tend to get radical. Workers who work in a low pay sector because they want to do socially useful work are angry too to see the essential services they deliver being cut by the council and government.
      This makes the union nervous.

      UNISON fairly openly says it needs to recruit in the voluntary sector. As more and more of its members are made redundant by councils its revenue is reduced. Even due to wage cuts (in real terms) the subs are reduced!
      If it goes on like this some union bureaucrats might be made redundant !!!!!

      Workers in the voluntary sector need the involvement of the left to assist them in developing the knowledge and skills to both build a union, fight to have it recognised and for its members to have a say it what the union does.
      As these unions are being often built from scratch it means the left assisting those willing to risk all and become a union activist with ideas, tactics, knowing which union edicts it can ignore and those that are serious enough to get ourselves expelled.

      There is the bureaucracy and then also the branch. They can be similar or they can be a source of support. It varies.

      When the writer says that we need to stop using archaic terms, well in terms of the task of reclaiming the unions and making them fight, no actually many of us need to learn about the mysterious ways of the unions and how we can push the struggle forward through the unions. The standing orders, branch rules, national rules, regulations that will be used to put obstacles in our way.

      Because so many of us have not worked in a unionised workplace, we need to learn how to work in the unions and how to win unionisation. Left unity should try to relate to these kind of struggles that are going on.

  9. Alan Story says:

    Joe Lo:

    I won’t comment on the content — I’m busy on local LU work at the moment! — but I do like the fresh style in which you have expressed your views. Give us more at another moment!

  10. Ben Norman says:

    I do see the general point this post is making and there’s no doubt that how socialists communicate their ideas to people is very important. However, I think these particular ideas might be lazily thought though. (Obviously its a little tongue in cheek, I do get that and it’s welcome!)

    By simply dropping words, you’re dropping the ideas they represent. Truly, the task is to take the values and ideas those possibly archaic words represent and communicate them in a way which is relevant to people today.

    Alternatively, by dropping words such as ‘socialist’ we are doing nothing but hiding what we are; duping the public into voting or supporting us. Rather than removing a barrier to support, we’d really just be masking what we stand for.

    If you are a socialist, or more specifically a Marxist, then it is a cop-out to use language which suggests otherwise. The very minimum requirement for any socialist is to advocate socialist ideas and do so honestly and openly.
    As a disclaimer, I do work in PR. So while I do appreciate that how the left presents itself is important, dropping words isn’t really PR, it’s just cheating.

    • Micky D says:

      Even Lenin would’ve appreciated the need to move with the times and use language as understood by the average person … How many people these days would refer to ‘ capitalist running dogs ‘ ? For the same reason no one other than McCartney says fab or groovy anymore we have to ‘ get with it ‘ ( lol ) and relearn how to speak English to people ….

  11. Great article. I don’t have a problem with the word socialist, I identify as one, but much of our language does need to embrace the 21st century and the people struggling to live in it.

  12. Hoom says:

    The problem with “socialist” is that what it means to someone widely varies. If people are going to use it, they really are going to have to explain what it means to them at the same time.

    The only one I’m not convinced by is “working class”. It’s still used pretty widely. And “working people” suffers from the same problem as “99%”. Are we really telling someone that works a minimum wage job that they’re in the same boat as someone who works as a stockbroker? Because that simply doesn’t match up with most people’s experiences.

    • PhilW says:

      I agree. Also, Cameron has appropriated “working people”: as in “hard-working people”. Ugh!

  13. Micky D says:

    Good article , some of you who write turgid love letters on here to Lenin / Trotsky should take note …if you can’t say it within a few paragraphs don’t bother , cos no ones reading it . We could learn a lot from Mr Farages ability to speak to the man / woman in the street ….

  14. Jimmy Haddow says:

    Atrocious commentary full of rhetorical hyperbolic platitudes that tell us nothing about what capitalism is or what socialism is or is not. Let’s reduce the intellectual level, the cultural level and political consciousness to the lowest common denominator and never raise the supporters of Left Unity above a middle class Liberal party that has no aspirations to alter the lives of the 99%, is what the author is articulating. Yours Comradely, from a working class Socialist who believes in the Socialist transformation of society, in Scotland, Britain as a whole, Europe and for a Socialist world.

    • Andrew Crystall says:

      Then surely you’re looking for Socialist Unity, not Left Unity?

    • PhilW says:

      Are you a labourite, stalinist, maoist, hoxhaist, libertarian, trotskyist, or other kind of socialist?

  15. Ray G says:

    Darren
    I am with you that we need this blog to focus increasingly on actual campaigns and policies for NOW. What is the way ahead for the problems facing people in the light of the greatest attack on living standards for two generations or more. What should our strategy be for resisting the attacks and practically building a new left party which could bring all of the various campaigns together.

    Jo,
    I actually agree with your basic points and I try to avoid most of these cliches, which don’t connect with most people today. We need to start where they are, rather than where we would like them to be. It is correct that in more complex debates on the left, SOME of this language is a useful shorthand, and useful, but more often it is in itself ‘lazy thinking’- using a well-worn cliche instead of thinking your ideas through from first principles.

    John Penney,
    I have warned elsewhere on this site of the ‘Chile 1973’ scenario, where a democratically elected ‘socialist’ party which was elected on a radical but not revolutionary programme was first sabotaged and then brutally overthrown and many of its supporters executed. This does not mean that the first demand on every leaflet should be revolution, but it does mean that if you push for radical attacks on the power of the ruling class (and this does exist)you should do it with your eyes open and prepare for the worst.

  16. Ben McCall says:

    Hannah, great – but if you haven’t delved back into this site, quite a few others have too, like Bazza (frequently and uniquely) but most notably Jasmin, on 4 May: http://leftunity.org/what-would-a-ukip-of-the-left-look-like/

    Joe, a great piece.

    While I agree with you mostly, I will certainly not miss the opportunity to quibble: “A party that says they want workers to control their workplaces on the other hand, re-build the welfare state and re-nationalise the railways and utilities on the other hand sounds good to everyone.” Not so.

    Many people are isolated (“atomized”) – they have been encouraged to be – and fearful of things they have been partly told by the media, but also actually experienced. So “workers controlling their workplaces” = everyone taking sickies, arguing the toss, etc. and nothing getting done. Actually, wasn’t it like that when the railways and utilities were nationalised and would it not return if we did it again?

    People who worked for the National Coal Board, British Steel/Rail/Leyland etc. remember top down hierarchies and managerial diktat, as much as anything else. Ken Loach makes the point himself in the film. Much (most?) of the NHS culture is top-down and absurdly hierarchical – and the other huge contradictions you get when a socially useful service exists in a wasteful, selfish competitive context (and good as it is, is it a ‘helping us be more healthy’ or a ‘coping with/treating sickness’ service? For another piece I think …).

    Of course this is oversimplifying, but is not the greatest problem helping people to imagine a better world, when their only reference points are the past 30 years of Thatcher and Blair? This is a process that will be helped by using as many positive, current things that resonate with people and a bit of futuristic utopia; plus positive, practical examples in work and learning places, at home and having fun. And when it turns nasty we are there with people – as we are them: from helping better understand the (work/benefits/ legal) system, to realise it needs radical change; to direct action on a range of issues, not only industrial.

    I would rather not start a new ‘party’ for people who think that there are better ways to live than buying stuff and mistrusting/maltreating each other, than explain socialism. It is a contaminated term and part of a C20th that many people would rather forget, or treat as a learning experience. I’d love to rehabilitate the hammer and sickle, but forget it folks, it’s over.

    The accompanying critique is of sad cliché language, such as “workplace muscle” (must be said in a Bob Crow accent, or it just sounds daft) and LU imagery: fists, flags and scary socialist symbolism, as others have said.

    Jimmy – but has it actually got us anywhere?

    Ray – you’ll make that hug too manly if you keep going all Chile on me.

  17. Bazza says:

    The early Marxists called themselves social democrats ie in early 20th c Germany, Poland etc and how this term changed. Early socialists never really used the term democratic socialist because the democratic bit was always taken for granted . But as ‘socialism’ was deformed by Stalin etc in E Europe ‘socialism’ became a dirty word. I remember going to an adult education conference in Slovenia just a few years ago and ‘socialism’ was sadly still seen as a dirty word because of ordinary people’s experiences of ‘bourgeois dictatorships of the prolerariate’ (top down undemocratic rule by an elite central committee and controlling party). As a w class socialist I am happy with term democratic socialist and this is clear but at times I do wonder about those who describe themselves as ‘revolutionary’ socialists – sometimes m class with the exception of the SP (top down socialists with a ready made programme to be deposited into the heads of the working class) and are they really just self -actualising? I’m not really interested in the Trot/Leninist far left and left groups – I think they have little if anything to offer and Interestingly within 6 months or so I will have to decide between LU and another party but will others in LU be allowed to be in 2 party’s? I have a lot of community engagement ideas which may bring w class people in. I would also suggest a pay what you can afford membership fee I.e. 10p unwaged, 50p part time, £1 low paid but people decide what to pay and if in decent jobs like me could say pay £30 – but people decide, we will need money but should value people more and this is socialist, I would have an equal say with the unwaged, ‘from each according to his/her ability to each according to his or her needs’.
    The question is will the new w class members enrich us or will we alienate them? As a w class democratic socialist I belive we will only win working people by being HONEST. Yours in solidarity.

  18. Bazza says:

    If we have mass support I believe working with global partners who have equal support we can build a democratic socialist World, and without harming one hair on one head. And if we face any problems we will have masses of working people with us and will work out the solutions TOGETHER. ‘Whilst a socialist party should offer leaderships it should never do anything that did not have the support of the w class’ – which I think is attributed to Rosa Luxemburg.
    ‘I tell them there’s no problems, only solutions’ – John Lennon.
    ‘to the oppressed and those who fight on their side’. – Paulo Freire.
    X & Peace.

  19. Joseph Kisolo-Ssonko says:

    Its frustrating that some people seem to miss the point of this excellent article, its not about marketing appeal, or hiding what we are about. It is about actually successfully communicating what we are about.

    That said, I do think we do need some terms on which to hang our political identity upon. I disagree with the author that we must only make do with ‘common place terms’ as, unfortunately, words that capture the broad vision we share may well not be out there.

    This doesn’t mean that we have to use old confusing words – I do think that the term socialist should have some place – but maybe we need to be creative and stamp meaning onto some words that are out there but whose meaning is ripe for capture?

  20. Jimmy Haddow says:

    Bazza says “As a w class socialist I am happy with term democratic socialist and this is clear but at times I do wonder about those who describe themselves as ‘revolutionary’ socialists – sometimes m class with the exception of the SP (top down socialists with a ready made programme to be deposited into the heads of the working class) and are they really just self -actualising?”

    Actually Bazza the Socialist Party Programme is not ready made, but has been developed over a very long period, which can be said to go back to the 1930s, in a dialogue with the working class in Britain and internationally. This dialogue means that the demands and programme that the Socialist Party puts forward today, and in the past under its antecedents, Militant Labour and the Militant Tendency, has been elaborated because they have been raised by the politically collective experiences of the politically advanced sections of the working class itself. Not as this commentary above has indicated by lowering oneself to the politically lowest common denominator.

    But dialogue is a two way process and the understanding of this process on the part of the working masses, what Marxists call the ‘political consciousness’, which is the understanding of the working class, lags behind the real objective situation that exists at this moment. The tasks of a programme sketched out and through the experiences of the masses are to help them to understand capitalism and therefore their real situation in society. The aim is to reach first of all the most politically-developed sections of the working class and then the mass of working people.

    However, the political challenge today for the working class is the crisis of working class leadership because of the lack of a political alternative to the capitalist political parties, and I include the Labour Party in that. This is a consequence of the move towards the right in the aftermath of the collapse of Stalinism in the early 1990s by the leadership of the workers’ parties – such as the Labour Party in Britain – and the trade union leadership. Socialism was relegated to the margins and even the class struggle was conjured away by the ‘miracle’ of the 1990s’ boom until its exhaustion in 2007.

    The present economic, social and political situation is unprecedented in its scope. Never in history has the gap between the objective situation of capitalism in crisis and the outlook of the working class, its absence of organisation, particularly political mass parties, been so evident. Given the relentless propaganda barrage, the reality of neo-liberal policies over 30 years and the absence of a political and economic alternative, it is inevitable that there is still, despite the severity of the crash, a residual acquiescence to the ‘market’, even amongst the working class. Many working class, and middle class, people have been stunned by the economic collapse. There is even there still a lingering view amongst some workers that the present crisis is temporary, that it will all be over soon and we can then return to the sunny, economic uplands. This is reinforced by right-wing, timid trade union leaders who seek to hold back the legitimate class anger of workers. That is why I deem that the building a new workers’ party drawing together workers, trade union activists, the trade unions, young people activists from work places, the community and elsewhere to provide a fighting political alternative to the pro-big business political parties.

    Therefore, while demanding a democratic, socialist planned economy, as a crowning idea in the programme of socialists and Marxists, it is necessary to put forward fighting demands in the current situation. Like opposition to ALL cuts created by the austerity programme; or a massive council housing building programme on an environmental sustainable basis to provide good quality homes with low rents; or a free publically run good quality education programme available to all at any age; or a democratically planned low fare publically owned transport system, as part of an overall plan against environmental pollution, and so on and so on. But for this to become realisable and maintained in the long term means that there has to be the socialist reconstruction of society.

    This is the reason for the need of the Socialist Party programme in this era because of the mixed consciousness of working-class people. This consciousness will be shaken and changed by the march of events. But the development of a rounded-out socialist consciousness, firstly of the most politically developed layers and then of the mass of the working class, can also be enormously facilitated by an approach and programme. This provides a bridge from the consciousness of working people today to the idea of socialist change.

    The gap between the increasingly worsening objective situation and the consciousness of the working class will close in the next period. Events – and explosive events at that – will help to ensure this. On the edge of an abyss, the mass of workers will confront the capitalist system – sometimes without a clear idea of what can be put in its place. The journey to a socialist and revolutionary consciousness can, however, be shortened considerably if the working class embraces the method and a programme linking day-to-day struggles with the idea of socialism.

  21. micheline mason says:

    I really liked this article and agree with the last comment, that it is about keeping the door open to people’s minds so we can start the discussion with them about what sort of future they want. Certain words can slam the door shut in a trice. I am very aware that keeping people, especially people who are not university educated, feeling they have something valuable to say in our groups is a challenging task. I hope we can use our organisation to set up study groups to learn what these terms really mean, including capitalism itself. I hope too that we can learn to listen with respect to young people who are the ones who are going to have to live in the ‘future’ and make it work.

    • Richard Murgatroyd says:

      Well said Joe, words really do matter. They are symbols that when read or heard trigger off mental and emotional reactions. They are the tools by which we understand the world. Also, their meaning, as commonly understood, changes according to personal and social experience, history and the dominant culture. And sadly we may have to include the word ‘socialist’ as one word whose original positive meaning has been lost for millions in the Western world.

      So far so obvious, but it seems that too many of us on the left are reluctant to face up to this because it can actually be painful and force us out of our cosy bubble. Its never pleasant to abandon or modify core ideas, and the language we have learned to use to express those ideas, when we may have invested many years of our lives and countless energy in ‘the struggle’.

      That’s why the representative of the Socialist Party who comments above has to argue that, and I quote ‘The gap between the increasingly worsening objective situation and the consciousness of the working class will close in the next period…’ etc.

      Errm… not sure history would bear that out. As recent election results suggest the plainer more deliberately ‘common-sense’ language of Farage certainly seems to be speaking more convincingly to millions than the traditional language of the ultra-left Leninoids.

      But as a modern history and politics teacher in a sixth form college for more years than I care to remember I can say with absolute certainty that hardly any young people today would understand a lot of the words and phrases he used in that post. Or find them particularly appealing.

      This is especially true of any slogans about ‘working class’, ‘worker’s party’,’class conflict/struggle’ etc. Similarly, the vast majority of them can’t define ‘left’, although they would be OK with ‘unity’. Likewise ‘capitalism’, ‘neo-liberalism’, Keynesianism, Marxism/Leninism/Bolshevism and most other ‘isms’. I bet that would be true for most older people as well. These words just don’t mean that much to most people today.

      The words we use should be a bridge not a barrier. If this is realistic then we have to come up for a name of our new party that does not include unhelpful trigger words like… ‘Left Unity’? I have no firm ideas about what the best would be but just to get the ball rolling how about…

      – PEOPLE AND PROGRESS
      – PUBLIC GOOD
      – COMMUNITY ACTION

      or my personal favourite LEFT REVOLUTIONARY SOCIALIST WORKERS PARTY (MARXIST-LENINIST)…?

  22. Terry Crow says:

    For information, since Billy Bragg is mentioned as one socialist alternative for Left Unity (from Wiki): //On the eve of the 2010 general election, Bragg announced that he would be voting for the Liberal Democrats because “they’ve got the best manifesto”.[28] He also backed the Lib Dems for tactical voting reasons. Bragg later expressed disappointment with the party, stating that “the Lib Dems had failed democracy “.[29]\\

    Perhaps he didn’t read the bit in their Manifesto which talked of opening up competition in the NHS – the Liberal Democrats certainly didn’t highlight their support for NHS privatisation.

    • Ray G says:

      In defence of Billy Bragg. He has been a pillar of the left throughout his whole career, and played a particular role during the Miners’ strike of 1984-5. He has been solid as a rock on all the main issues of the left ever since, although never really making a clean break with the left-Labour perspective. If we could recruit him to Left Unity it would be marvellous, but by guess is that he will go the way of Owen Jones, Tony Benn, Jeremy Corbyn etc.

      I don’t believe he was the only person on the left who voted LibDem for tactical reasons, given the ridiculous electoral system which he opposes.

      Also, at various points they were actually better than Labour – think opposition to 90-day detention of terror suspects, the 50p top rate of tax (back in 1997), the refusal to join Labour in demonising asylum seekers….Oh! and the small matter of the War on Iraq!!.

      Of course the LIbDems was and is a pro-capitalist party with some terrible ideas – but so was and is Labour. OK – given the behaviour of the party now in coalition we (those who voted LibDem) have egg all over our faces, and you can all laugh at us. Feel free and I will just accept it, but our motives were good, if naive and a bit daft!!

  23. K says:

    Something I wrote on the ‘communist’ movement in Britain a little while ago and the misalligned priorities of the left, it gets a little tangential in the middle, but I feel the rest is pretty relevant:

    Whether or not ‘true communism’ can exist is purely up to conjecture, it’s not falsifiable because there’s no way to prove per se whether it can work or not. Arguments resting on human nature don’t do too much to add to the debate either, they’re mostly intuitive assertions by people who’ve grown up in societies with a hegemonic culture of aspirationalism and accumulation.

    Different cultures exist, which is somewhat stating the obvious, but it’s important to recognise if we’re going to understand that socialisation is the chief way in which people develop their attitudes and ethics. More directly speaking, if you grow up in a society that fetishises greed such as in modern Britain or a large swathe of other countries, you’re probably going to believe that human beings are innately greedy. Without making an appeal to primitivism, there are plenty of agrarian societies which rely on subsistence which are characterised by a radically different work ethic. When times are hard, they will graft, they will strive, they’ll do whatever is necessary for survival. When times are plentiful, they will sit around, drink tea, tell poems, play games, crack jokes etc (there was a relatively interesting study conducted by the Swedish government recently in to Somali culture which essentially went along those lines). Of course I’m not suggesting that we return to agrarianism as a preferred mode of production, but just trying to illustrate slightly different work ethics between cultures.

    Whether or not we could ever be living in a Marxist utopia is of relatively little interest to me, understanding that history is a process will make anyone aware that even if such a society is possible, the modes of change to take place for us to get there mean it will never happen in our lifetime. As such, it is important to consider what is change is possible within our life time. What can we do to strive towards empowering citizens, fighting for social justice, ultimately trying to make the world that we die in a more egalitarian place than the one we were born in. We should be striving to resist attacks on the public services that are essential to the daily living of millions of working class people and the structures of support that exist for the most vulnerable people in society. We should be striving for economic enfranchisement as well as our political enfranchisement, by which I mean we should have a greater democratic control of our labour, we should be trying to establish workers cooperatives and provide an alternate model of production which isn’t based purely on accumulation and personal avarice for the people who own it. We should be fighting for our autonomy wherever possible, that is to say fighting for the right to make the decisions which directly effect us rather than that being in the hands of a government which is accountable only once every four or five years during an election.

    Essentially I think those are the things that we should be considering at present, the things we can directly influence. If the future heads along this trajectory then it will bring us closer to something that resembles the vision of communism.

  24. Jimmy Haddow says:

    Richard Murgatroyd says “That’s why the representative of the Socialist Party who comments above has to argue that, and I quote ‘The gap between the increasingly worsening objective situation and the consciousness of the working class will close in the next period…’ etc.
    “ Errm… not sure history would bear that out. As recent election results suggest the plainer more deliberately ‘common-sense’ language of Farage certainly seems to be speaking more convincingly to millions than the traditional language of the ultra-left Leninoids.
    “But as a modern history and politics teacher in a sixth form college for more years than I care to remember I can say with absolute certainty that hardly any young people today would understand a lot of the words and phrases he used in that post. Or find them particularly appealing.”

    To start with Robert I am not a representative of the Socialist Party, but a rank and file member with 33 years of experience with the Socialist Party, and its antecedents the Militant Tendency and Militant Labour, and nearly 40 years involvement in, and studying, trade union and socialist politics. If I am truthful, and I am always, I am a member of the Socialist Party Scotland, which is the sister party of the Socialist Party and which is affiliated the international socialist organisation called the Committee for a Workers’ International, (CWI). The CWI is organised in 45 countries and works to unite the working class and oppressed peoples against global capitalism and to fight for a Socialist world.

    Secondly, I find your analysis Robert of the political situation, and the use of language I also may add, that you use as an illustration quite superficial and in tune with the tone of the article itself; lets dumb-down everything and keep it at the lowest common denominator and never raise the sights of Left Unity’s membership and/or the working class.

    Nevertheless, it is interesting this posture by some members of the Left Unity project on the question of language and theory and its application by, and to, a leftward organization and the working class in society. What is reality but the social processes that affect every individual, family and social organisation within society? The Spanish pragmatic philosopher, not a Marxist, George Santayana, said that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Now social theory, and its language, is just the concentrated experiences of the past. It is not as so many contributors on Left Unity have superficially perceived like Moses’ Ten Commandments set in stone never to be deviated from.

    Do we need theory to go about our ordinary daily life, the answer would be evidently no. But if we wish to gain a rational understanding of the world in which we live, and the fundamental processes at work in the economy, nature, society and our own way of thinking, then matters appear in a quite different light.

    Just like a cook/chef who goes to college and learns the theory on “Molecular gastronomy” as part of understanding the cooking processes and to understand the use of cookery language; or as an apprentice electrician, which was the start of my working career 41 years ago and I did for nearly 20 years, goes to college to learn the theoretical applications of electrical machinery and the finer points of my job, as well as the use of the language of the electrical craft so I could communicate with fellow electricians and apprentices.

    I also have to say that my second major job, which I did for 12 years, was teaching offenders in a prison social science, history, politics, etal, literacy and numeracy and I would not have been able to do that if I did not have the theoretical backing of my university degree and Master’s degree, and my post graduate teaching degree, as a mature student. Along with using appropriate social science language to raise my students’ intellectual aspirations to understanding the world we lived in and attempt to change their life choices. It certainly not for me to criticise a fellow professional, but to be honest if someone who teaches politics and history and does not raise the political and historical literacy of their job to what-ever age of student is failing in raising the cultural level of the working class in the crisis ridden society.

    It is absolutely necessary for the members of a democratic Left political Party/Coalition to have an understanding of the whys and wherefores in what they are doing. If they do not, then to be quite blunt, they are naïve children playing at games and not serious adults wanting to make a difference to the millions of people affected by the economic and social crisis of capitalism. Now to understand why there is this present economic and social crisis of capitalism one must “remember the past” so that one does not “repeat it” and have a theory as an explanation, and use the proper language, to this devastation crisis and all its consequences. You cannot fix what you do not understand, that is just plain common sense.

    • Joe says:

      Didn’t mean to say that the terms I mentioned are useless or should never be mentioned. Obviously they’re useful for academics and people having academic-type debates. Just not terms to use on a flyer, or in a meeting with first-timers. Of course, we have to understand the past but at present debating the past takes up too much of our time in my opinion.

  25. Bazza says:

    Just been to a really good Left Unity meeting I Leeds – the Launch and 100 people!
    As someone said the left needs to work together WE AGREE ON 90%!
    Just read the financial pages of the Guardian/Times to see the rich in a parallel universe & a a mine of propaganda.
    The left is poor on propaganda and we need to also use their language against them – the real dependency culture is that of the rich and powerful – every day they must pray that the working billions will turn up to work to create the wealth and to make societies work.
    The left is also poor on community campaigning and Left Unity needs to get out on the council estates to begin with and talk to working people to recruit working class people. And to promote equality, socialist ideas and anti- discrimination – to build a base and we are in charge of the agenda and not reacting to others. Plus have a pay what u can afford membership fee.yours in solidarity!

  26. ged cavander says:

    Would a worked example help?

    *** Message set 1:*** ‘red’ ‘revolution’ ‘redistribution’ ‘class war’ etc etc. I don’t need to write much here because you all know the sort of thing (Tom, are you reading?).

    *** Message set 2 *** ‘A fairer, more equal, greener and more prosperous society … a positive, progressive way forward. Whilst the mainstream parties fight over who would implement the most cuts to the vital public services on which we all rely, we would invest and defend those services. Our policies aim to build a future of peace, justice and equality. We give voice to the millions who want a fairer, more equal, greener and more prosperous society. Here are some of the simple changes in policy that we believe the British people need to turn our country around.

    Investment, not cuts – defend public services

    End the housing crisis and improve transport

    A voice for international peace and justice

    One society, many cultures – Ensuring justice and equality

    A green recovery – People and Planet together”

    *** JUST FOCUSING ON THE dialect, not the policies (the issue of ownership is omitted from both) which WAY of talking do you think would best communicate with, say, a secondary school grad (16-28) not brought up in either a Marxist or Historian’s household?

  27. John Keeley says:

    Joe,

    A brave article.

    I agree that the left need to come out of the shadow of Bolshevism.
    Too often the far-left groups appear as societies for the historical re-enactment of the Russian Revolution (a bit like those people who re-enact the English civil war).

    There are no more Stalinists, & it all seems a bit strange to define oneself as a Trotskyist now that the USSR has collapsed.
    And just what is a Leninist if not someone who advocates a top-down party structure (Lenin leading the party, the party leading the workers, the workers leading the peasants)?

    That’s not to say there’s not a lot of good theory that comes from Lenin, Trotsky & all the other Bolsheviks, even Mensheviks.
    But we don’t live in a peasant-dominated country or world.
    The 21st century is not Russia in 1917.

    Similarly, we don’t live in the 1960’s & socialism isn’t the welfare state.
    It’s not about taxing businesses to provide hand-outs to the poor or minorities.
    It’s not about trying to create a more equal form of capitalism.
    Because capitalism only produces for profit, it can’t afford the welfare state today.
    This is why we must be against reformists, but not against reforms that help the working class (or people, if you prefer).

    But now that capitalism is seen as failing, & the economists can’t explain why their system is prone to crises, the term Marxist has more credibility.
    Marx explained how capitalism works & why it is a system of exploitation as much as feudalism.
    He could see that is was historically determined & was only a matter of time before the working class consigned it to the dustbin of history.

    In a few short years, being an anti-capitalist now has some credibility & appeal.
    The challenge is to also put forward an alternative.
    Just how would we collectively organise production & consumption to meet the needs of humanity?
    There isn’t a single answer, but surely the emphasis should be on equality of decision-making.
    In otherwords, participation.
    A word people can relate to far more than socialism.

  28. Richard Murgatroyd says:

    Nationalisation = community ownership (suggested by a younger member of Huddersfield LU when we talked about “Stuff we can unite around” – document is on this site and tried to avoid a lot of jargon)

    Economic planning = democratically managed economy?

    Working class = ordinary people?

    Neo-liberalism = Thatcherism

    Maybe there’s no alternative to ‘anti-capitalism’ and ‘socialism’ etc but we don’t have to throw em around like confetti and assume everyone automatically knows what they mean

  29. Mark caulfield says:

    How do you explain the word’socialism’ without first of all using the name?

    • Joe says:

      Obvioulsy it depends on the circumstances. How much time you’ve got to explain, how ready the other person is to listen etc.
      If you’ve got someone interested who wants to know what you mean by socialism then tell them.
      If you’re being interviewed by a journalist for a 5-second soundbite, you could say “we want Britain to be run by ordinary people for ordinary people” instead of saying “we want a socialist Britain”

    • Marzo says:

      Explain some of the ideas simply. “I believe that the people in the workplace should run the business democratically.” You won’t believe how many people will agree with you, simply by avoiding the word “socialism.”

  30. Joe says:

    I wasn’t try to say that we should never use these terms or that they aren’t useful in some contexts. They are.
    Was just trying to raise some issues surrounding them and urge caution when using them.
    Thanks for the feedback everyone.

  31. Ken says:

    How far does the author want to take this? Replacing “The Internationale” with “Rule Brittania?” Sounds like the ghost of Michael Harrington has been channeled across the Atlantic Ocean.

  32. Pham Binh says:

    Here’s my attempt to make the case minus the jargon and isms this article mentions that sets us up to fail:
    http://planetanarchy.net/Common.pdf

  33. When the Socialist Party of Great Britain insists on defining terms and describing what we mean by socialism and capitalism, we get accused of being abstract.

    And endeavouring to simply change the language and words or the modify the form of ownership doesn’t change the social relationships. Being a wage slave to a privately owned company or a public owned enterprise changes very little for a worker. And that is being very concrete about reality!

  34. markjuliansmith says:

    “Socialism means different things to different people. Ed Miliband, Ken Loach and Stalin have all said they’re socialists. Two of them are lying. Which one depends on your personal definition of Socialism.”

    I contend they were all socialists the only thing which differentiated them is the degree of certainty.

    Marx gave us some very good insights into culture how it evolved in time and space given the relative resources, technology and knowledge in situ.

    Trouble is completely juxtaposed to his Darwinian approach Marx determined there was such a thing as a Holy Grail toward which culture was inexorably heading, a utopian balance where everyone would have their ‘fair’ share. Marx had just created another ‘opium’ for the masses – another vehicle for priesthood to maximise their and the cultural institutions of socialism/communism access to scarce resources to support and justify their continued existence.

    This necessarily requires delineating the priesthood as the holders and defenders of the sacred texts from adherents and anyone who challenged such a construct as Other. In this case the fascists, rightist, third columnists, whatever name is and was convenient at the time.

    Socialism is a cute name change from Communism, the same as Protestantism versus Catholicism.

    All have shown a propensity when enough political critical mass was attained to do as all cultures do.

    Misunderstood? “..she stormed away saying the socialists had killed her grandparents.” And the Socialists did kill her Grandparents. How did it come to this? This doctrine of care for Other perverted by its adherents. Trouble is an adherent cannot pervert the very thing that created their behavioural variance in the first place. The same thing as claiming a child gave birth to their mother.

    Trouble is for dogmas of certainty Other are heavily qualified and in the case of religions and dare I say the secular reflections women. If you have Other determined as less or qualified in any way in your foundation codex – you will I assure you kill again if given enough political power and you have not removed such determinations of Other.

    My view is culture if left to its own devices tend, as individuals, to seek maximise their power and access to scarce resources so as to enhance their survival in time and space. Drift to fundamentalism and to enhanced feedback mechanisms which focuses on advancing the culture as an institution rather than the individuals which reside within.

    The individual adherents rather than realising their own potential in life become servants, slaves to a cultures institutional hierarchy who proclaim loudly they have the individual adherents interests at heart whereas it is their own access to scarce resources and relative power they wish to preserve within an constricting cultural construct. This I proffer goes for both the religious and the secular based cultures.

    Nietzsche exposition on religion can be just as well applied to Marx’s vision of the ‘good’ culture. As we have seen in Marx’s vision played out on the ground.

    Marx should have taken note of his own determination of dogmas of faith (religions)

    “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”

    What is the ‘answer’ to the human condition – there is no ‘answer’. There is no one cultural construct religious or secular which will enable a flourishing life. To be so certain there is is to end up ‘killing her grandparents” again and again.

    Why? Because Marx was right in time and space the relative resources, technology and knowledge in situ change and inform different relationships by which cultures function to ensure survival and continuation. Marx, although I understand Marx had the best of intentions in creating a ‘good’ world, I believe ignored his own findings. Because Nietzsche was right in time and space, it becomes all about the preservation of the priests and their institutions the ‘grandparents’ their inevitable victims.

    The good news is God is Dead(inclusive of socialism)-The Public Square still exists. Life continues as it did before God.

    The measure of an individual’s capacity to achieve a flourishing life is dependent on the length, depth, and breadth of the Public Square and the capacity to exist within without fear or favour to experience the warmth of the sun in the day and survey the vast expanse of stars of the night secure in the knowledge you matter.

    The challenge set for humanity is to define the attributes of such a Public Square which would enable a flourishing life, understanding the determinants of what ‘flourishing’ means has to be continually negotiated and renegotiated within the Public Square whilst the primacy of ‘without fear or favour’ strictly enforces non-violence as authority to enter and participate.

    Any culture which inherently contains violence against Other and determination of women as less within its consistent cultural behavioural variance has therefore to change its cultural foundation codex genetic and textual authority to participate.

    Therefore society based on such precepts determine the individual as opposed to the culture secular or religious within which they reside as the focus. Culture is there to serve the maximised capacity of the individual to flourish rather than the culture itself. Although it may appear to be a paradox as culture defines the individual and informs the nature of the individuals existence and behaviour, it is the capacity of the culture to change tradition and not rely on tradition as the prime basis for informing meaning for an individual adherents life in the face of changing circumstance and particularly new knowledge primarily derived from education, health, social, and individual psychology research.

    Culture therefore rather than hard-coding tradition as giving meaning for life seeks to reflect continually on the worth of traditions within a changing resource and knowledge landscape and adapt tradition accordingly. Tradition clearly plays a role in connecting past to present to future to give a degree of relative certainty as to where one exists in time and space but it is the relative degree of certainty historically cultures have imbued their traditions in terms of forming beliefs which is will and has been the cause of so much horror.

    The Public Square is necessarily an ethically agreed space where cultural relativism only applies in limited form to the ideas feeding into the negotiation and renegotiation of Public Square ethics. Limited by ‘without fear or favour’, race and gender equality, not equal but different equal on all levels the filter.

    The trick is how to keep the priests at bay and come to the point where we just can’t remember why we needed them in the first place.

  35. Ron Grainger says:

    First of all I’d like to state that in my heart I am a socialist, in my head it makes perfect sense also.I also live a very ethical/sustainable lifestyle. Yet my life experiences (long & varied that they are) tell me that the left will not succeed (unless things get really bad and even then …) It’s the right model but unfortunately we’re the wrong animal. We’re just not capable in large enough numbers. For one thing we are a naturally discriminatory animal. There’s groups we don’t like and want to change. The reasons Farage/ukip, the BNP/EDL garner some level of support are varied but very simple & basic. Most people are pretty simple and basic. They tap into knee jerk reactions against people/groups they either don’t like or don’t want to be like. When all said and done it’s still a very small number of people. Most people are pretty apathetic.Even people that are disadvantaged. As long as they’ve got access to a telly, mobile phone and booze they are pretty accepting of their lives (they might not be content, fulfilled or even happy ) but they have sufficient to while away the hours and that’s enough. The left is similar in many respects in these regards. There are groups we want to change ( capitalism etc) The key differences are that the reasons are deep and complex (difficult for the average person to grasp) also the groups that you may be able to persuad people to dislike (the rich, elite etc) are not what they would be totally opposed to becoming themselves. So you can get people to say “Yeah it’s obscene that footballer’s, pop stars, bankers get paid so much and we should stop it” But they’d swap places with them in a heartbeat. Where as people on the right don’t want to be like the people/groups they oppose in the slightest and there in lies the rub.

  36. Emile Sanchez says:

    Absolutely Ron. A 100 years ago being disadvantaged was very different to now. No vote, no rights, no union, very, very low wages, poverty, ill health, poor sanitation, poor health care,long hours, poor working conditions, few pleasures in life and so on. So the Labour movement was able to become established. Today all the above have largely been eradicated.People have less to get them motivated. They’ll just bumble along with a vague hope they might get that killer job or a win on the lottery but if not they’ve got enough little pleasures in life to keep them going. The vast majority in the middle have plenty compared to 100 years ago. The average wage is around £25,000. Now this is oft misunderstood to mean this is what the average person earns. It’s not. It is simply the total amount earned divided by the number of people working.Because there are a few earning millions. This skews the figure. Anyone that happens (by chance) to be on the average wage actually earns more than 2 thirds of the work force (probably your average teacher for example) The largest portion of the workforce (over 50%) actually earn somewhere in the region of £12,000 to £18,000. So imagine a typical couple with 2 kids , both working full time might bring in jointly about £30,000 (that’s just £5,000 above the so called average wage)Because they work full time they are going to pay out thousands in child care.( and going to be totally knackered) more typically might be that one parent works part time so the joint income is more likely to be around £24,000, lower than the so called average wage. So much of the popoulation are seriously stressed by work (most people do a job they niether like or want)come home on an evening , slump infront of the TV, Live for the weekend when they can have a laugh with their mates & have a few drinks. This is pretty much most people’s lives and they quite accept it. So in context a Teachers lot really isn’t that bad. in fact it’s bloody good. The main point is that things will have to get an awful lot worse for an awful lot of people before they engage in leftist politics. Then they’ll hope as their lives improve they again have a chance of being really well off and their interest will then fall away again.

  37. Andy Nevill says:

    Let’s not call ourselves Socialist or in fact give ourselves any labels at all. Let’s start afresh and think our way through this issue by issue instead of messing things up by getting involved in explaining labels at all.

    Andy

  38. Adam says:

    I totally agree with the article. In fact I’d say, why call this group `Left Unity`? Call it N14 instead. Or even my preferred title for a new party – `Convention`. You can use it if you like ;)

  39. Karl Stewart says:

    I’m not a member of Left Unity, and I was sceptical when it first emerged, but I do think that Ed Miliband’s attack on the Labour-TU link could well put the question of a new left-of-Labour formation firmly onto the political agenda.

    In the above article, I think I’d say I agree with some of Jo Lo’s arguments, yes of course we mustn’t make the mistake of being ultra-ideological and of giving the impression that politics is an elitist science that can only be understood after years of rigorous intellectual study, and yes of course we’ve got to stop being a historical re-enactment society.

    But let’s not ditch our basic and fundamental principles – what on earth’s wrong with the term “comrade”? It’s an excellent, gender-neutral term that’s used to indicate that we’re fighting together for a common cause.

    And the term “working class” indicates those who work hard all our lives to create profits for the wealthy – we need more class consciousness not less.

    It’s true that the term “socialist” has been used by the most appalling people in the past and present. (I don’t like this any more than Jo Lo does, and I also don’t like the way the SWP used to present themselves as “the socialists” as if totally appropriating the term – something the Left Unity’s “Socialist Platform” might reflect upon perhaps?)

    In truth, the word “socialist” doesn’t of itself alienate people at all, and it’s generally accepted as a fairly broad description of a more equal society – even by those who disagree with this.

    If we don’t use any of these words at all for fear of upsetting people, then we’re in danger of just being the “Nice People Who Support Good Things And Oppose Bad Things Party” – certainly “broad” but also perhaps a little bland and meaningless.

    Anyway, best of luck with the Left Party initiative. I think it could become a very important development if, as seems likely, the current Labour leadership continues along its self-destructive path of alienating the trade union movement.

  40. Mark Birkett says:

    Dear All,

    Winston Churchill reckoned “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; socialism the equal sharing of miseries”.

    Now whilst I think that’s actually bloody funny, and probably what 99% of the UK public think, I think it ascribes the problem anyone on the left faces eloquently. The ultimate challenge of “socialists” (of whatever flavour) is surely to make left-wing thinking a great deal more fun than having to trawl through Marx, bang on as he may have been. The minute you mention ‘Comrades’, ‘Brothers’, ‘Sisters’, ‘Communism’, ‘Marxism’ or ‘Revolution’ most people lose the will to live – whether we like it or not. All these monikers scare the VERY people we’re trying to get onside because they’re too loaded.

    Most people understand what ‘being fair’ means. So why don’t we simply describe Capitalism as being unfair, Socialism about being fair? That can’t scare anyone can it?

  41. Mark Birkett says:

    Dear All,

    Might I also point out that The Socialist Labour Party set up by Arthur Scargill has been arguing for the ALL the things mentioned in yesterday’s Guardian letter for a very long time?

    And since Arthur has an impeccable record of standing up for the working class, and against the ravages of Capitalism, I can’t think of a better figurehead. In fact, the more I think about it, the more obvious it is. Perhaps everyone on here is arguing for a ‘new’ party pointlessly?

    • Fran says:

      Arthur cocked up by bringing the miners out on strike when coal reserves were at a maximum. People of my community still wonder if he was ‘got at’

  42. Mark Birkett says:

    Dear All,

    Sorry, me again…

    I’ve often struggled to explain – even to myself – exactly what a ‘new socialist world’ might actually look like – and function. Anyone on the Left will also have faced the question “So how does a revolution start exactly?”. And “what happens after the revolution?”. And “Will it be violent?”.

    The minute you’re unable to answer people those questions convincingly, you’re written off as a dreamer. It’s not good enough to know the ugliness of Capitalism when you see it. And it’s not good enough to say, “I can’t provide you with a blueprint” either. Unless you’ve lived in a vacuum all your life, the Capitalist model is so entrenched in all of our thinking it’s hard to find time to frame the alternatives – from where we all are NOW.

    And on a more practical point, the notion of everyone having an equal say in running a traditional factory, or a mobile-phone software-application enterprise for that matter, is quite difficult for anyone ‘socialist’ or otherwise to fully picture. If I’m no good at decision making, but a brilliant producer of stuff, why do I even WANT to decide things? I might be perfectly happy leaving decisions to others.

    So how about this approach;

    If we accept that some people ARE good at managing things, others at MAKING things, others at SELLING things, why not leave them doing exactly that? Surely the only change is that everyone will be taking an absolutely equal salary. Now who can be scared off by that?

    Not so?

    • Fran says:

      I don’t think it needs bloodshed, a look at the Scandinavian socialist economies gives us a good model of how living with enough and contributing can work for all. Also they put their bankers to trial. This country once had social reformers in the upper echelons who felt their life would be improved by a level of happiness that all who worked could expect to enjoy. This brings a peace and unity to society. Everyone has a fair crack at achieving, but those who achieve are supported and give back. There isn’t the psyche ward need for insane opulence and bathtubs full of champagne to feel SUCCESSFUL as a human.

  43. elspeth parris says:

    I could just about understand the article, many of the comments were beyond my comprehension, and way too long for my concentration!

    1. I consider myself to be a socialist but have found myself in terrible arguments with some of our local activists who consider that socialism = communism and since I’m not communist I can’t be socialist. That is a position I would disagree with, I have to really because of my next point.

    2. As a home owner (outright) and even a landlord (I have a lodger, whose rent contributes to my minimal income since I lost my job) I could be considered a capitalist. That doesn’t mean that I think I have any right to treat people poorer than me like dirt!

    3. I observe in the people around me a variety of attitudes to life. Some of those attitudes relate to a sense of the community we, in some way, belong to. I, for instance, am not comfortable with any of the class-based definitions – brought up in the middle-class I didn’t fit and was uncomfortable with it even as a child. After years of homelessness that misfit became more serious. I self-identify as a hippy – that’s comfortable for me. Someone else, who may or may not be earning a good income may self-identify as ‘working class’ because the set of attitudes they grew up with are comfortable for them and that was how they grew up. Someone else may choose to self-identify with an ethnic community, and another who would be seen by others as belonging to that ethnic community would be uncomfortable identifying as part of it.

    • Fran says:

      You sound really nice, a landlady or landlord who has a reciprocal relationship of social as well as capitalist respect is I think a good example of a socialist free market economy working well. I don’t hate you Ms Hippy, I think what you provide in this market of none person centred profit is a good thing. Its more of a cooperative when a tenant and a landlord or lady are both supporting each others well being. I think this is something good!

  44. Fran says:

    I’m working class because my family have consistently worked hard in industry to better their children’s education and circumstances and mine through our family history.
    I’m socialist because I was taught that social advancement should be extended and shared with neighbours, poor, others and any who are also oppressed or negated by birth, race, gender or by privilege.
    Working class is cultural and historical, socialism is philosophical, cultural and spiritual, whilst also being secular.

  45. Daryl says:

    Only just stumbled across this. This is a brilliant article, hits the nail perfectly on the head.

    We unfortunately have to be pragmatic with our approach here, as will hopefully be contesting elections. We will be campaigning to a public who as Joe brilliantly pointed out will have memories of either the Soviet Union or GCSE History – socialism as a word has been dirtied over the years (This, I believe, is the biggest success of Thatcher).

    In contesting these elections, we will be up against parties who will fall on the socialism-as-a-dirty-word tactic – let’s make sure they fall on their swords instead!

  46. Neil says:

    I like the idea of an alternative that speaks for the people however you are putting barriers in your way by the use of retro Communist poster design, also trying to stick to the old communist/socialist words. To communicate you need to sound fresh and new, alive and relevant to people now. It would be a shame if so much energy and interest in starting up a new party for all people (be they working or out of work), were not given the best start in can get.

  47. Jonny Emmett says:

    If I was looking for something new in ‘left’ politics, something representative, that I could believe in and be enthused about and feel a part of, I would have probably given up on ‘Left Unity’ as the thing that I was looking for. Why? Because I would (and do) feel alienated by the over intellectualising of the whole thing.

    Tell it like it is to people in language that they will recognise and can respond to, get off our arses and show them how it works, show them something new, honest full of hope and action.

    Not smart arsed leftism that will turn people away in their droves.

  48. We need far more on revolution WHICH ENTAILS the shifting of the material burden of work from the working class, not to poor immigrants and overseas workers, but to the parasitic bourgeois and ruling classes which avoid productive work, generation after generation.

    They of course comprise in part the landowners, the aristocracy, the rich industrial owners, but also all those intellectuals from lineages that have never ever pulled their weight

    One means those of both professed right wing AND left wing politics.

    Thank you, left wing middle class intellectuals and media stars pointing out the working classes are being screwed. We know. It is surely as much your turn to do proper jobs as those of right wingers, whether the old anti-apartheid brigades instanced by Peter Hain, ‘nice’ lineages like those of Vera Brittain, Shirley Williams etc, and assuredly the turn of women like Sam Cameron and Kate Wales. The Freuds, the Foots, the Camerons, the Benns are all work-owing families (as are the Milibands). They are in work debt to working people.

    We need to start recognising an Oxbridge degree as a qualification for road mending, fruit picking, garbage collecting and recycling etc.

    We don’t need to wait another generation. The relief from that sort of work should be ours now.

    And it will fall on the oppressors just as the factory work that we repatriate from China etc should.

    Finally a simple policy which should be a priority:

    Take the whole finance industry into public ownership and under democratic control.

    By a single policy we can;
    1. Equalise financial wealth
    2. Equalise pension incomes
    3. Provide the investment for housing, green energy, industrial production and health and education
    4. Thus cut the National Debt in half
    (The deficit is of course nowt but money that should have been taxed away from the rich by adequate tax RATES)
    5. Stem the flow of anti-equality rhetoric from the over-paid, overvalued financier caste.
    6. Equalise incomes at the national average income in the industry.

  49. Nick says:

    Thanks for this interesting debate. Let’s take some of the themes:

    Language: terms, even in politics, shift. Perhaps ‘socialism’ might not mean what it has done in the past, since there are so many interpretations of it, not to mention a tendency to trail socialist values expediently in the dirt. So what do we mean today, and if we are to contest elections and play footsie with other parties in the process of building power or avoiding the Allende scenario, how are we going to stick to our values in the face of the reactive pressures of those with the wealth and the media resources to stop us? I don’t think the Allende scenario is a likely one, because building a credible left opposition from outside the traditional party structure is going to be a long hard road, even if we manage to put aside all the old differences.

    Perhaps language should also extend to design and symbolism. You don’t need to use the bad old words like socialism and revolution with a party logo and type face that resembles the brief constructivist flourishing of early Russian revolutionary art, combined with the traditional clenched fists. So the rhetoric is of a new party that reaches out, but the symbolism is very historical, and all about revolution.

    This worries me – so far I cannot point to many revolutions that turned out not to be the same old story as that of Animal Farm. Cuba, maybe, but not very convincingly. For those people that like history, have a read of Lirragaray’s account of the Paris Commune, Serge’s experiences of the revolution, or talk to someone who was in the Santiago stadium. It’s not about being frightened about your money, it’s about what the human price of that is compared to what we’re experiencing now. The difference, when working class definitions might have been simpler back in the 20th century, was that then people were starving, hence the general strike of 1926. These conditions brought about the post war Labour government. Since then we’ve sold everything off. Now the disparities between rich and poor and for example their life expectancy are the same as in the 1930s in Britain (see the work of Danny Dorling or the Marmot Report), but those worst off do not feel themselves as badly off. If Boris Johnson feels that disparity creates aspiration though, then that is dangerous talk. The established parties have revived an old argument of blaming the poor for being poor – it’s a convenient means of shifting the blame onto the inconvenient – and because those who lead parties often tend to be the articulate people who can carefully rearrange words and terms, it will be possible that after the glorious social change that we bring about we will be able to blame the poor again for not doing whatever it is they should do to maintain the gains that were fought for.

    Class: If you look at the present situation in the UK, or elsewhere in the ‘West’ class is a very broad brush term. My instinct would be to use it, but to think about the many other factors (culture, belief, education, relative experience) which might affect how people operate ‘class’ for themselves. Perhaps there are some other important issues – one of them is age. The fasting growing group in the UK are the old baby boomers. Those of us who might be old (I’m 55) are looking forward to rising prices, diminishing pensions and a future of increasing disability with fewer care and health facilities and those we have actually very very stretched and somewhat chaotic due to marketisation of the health service. The old will increase, even if another 31,000 are killed off in the choice between heating and eating this winter – and age respects no other categories. This is a crisis in waiting which no politician wants to address – but soon enough they will have to because there will be a lot of votes involved and it will start to have a very dramatic effect on the social fabric of the country. Like communities where there are no-one but people with complicated disabilities trying to look after each other.

    Anti-intellectualism: Well, what used to turn me off about the left wing parties of old was a tendency to simply theory and end up coming over like a bunch of demagogues and I’ll admit to doing this myself. I spent a lot of time wrangling out the niceties of various positions on the left and reading a lot of humourless rubbish pontificated by party spokespeople raising whatever issue you could get people to sign a petition against this week. The discussion hinged on obligatory phrases such as Marxist-Leninism or references to the key revolutionary hero of the group. They were not promoting a theory, but peddling a religion. If there is something to be learned from the previous history of socialist movements let it at least be from the Chileans and Cubans who knew the value of a cultural wing to the struggle, or at least, some good tunes. If there need to be tactics, then please lets not have some half arsed ideas derived by hot headed and reckless ‘comrades’ from historically and culturally inappropriate examples that cannot be applied here, but that doesn’t mean that history or theory should be ignored. What will work? Is there any certainty? The problem is to build a theory and to develop a practical solution for the present, 21st century situation.

  50. laurence says:

    http://rdwolff.com/sites/default/files/attachment/48/20130799%20wolff%20alternatives.to_.capitalism.pdf

    Richard D wolff’s examination of alternatives to Soviet and Chinese styles of Marxism.

  51. Peter Hill says:

    To return to Joe’s article: I think a lot of it is entirely fair: words like ‘comrade’ have degenerated into retro lefty kitsch, like the constant references to the Russian Revolution. But there is more of a problem with words that still carry important meanings. I’m not sure that words like ‘class’ or ‘socialism’ can be dismissed in the same way, as just outdated vocabulary. ‘Class’, ‘capitalism’ and ‘socialism’ are concepts – we can argue of course over whether they are good or useful concepts, need revision, or need dropping entirely. But they are not just the ingredients for making slogans. Ideas like these – not just these of course! – are what we need to make sense of the world and change it. The article suggests replacing whatever concepts we now have (and admittedly some of them are outdated) on a purely verbal level. We should create new words, but not new ideas. If we accept this, it means one of two things. Either we go on with the same outdated ideas but just give them a new verbal form – or rather a new verbal disguise. That is, we replace ‘class’ or ‘socialism’ with some new sanitised term (e.g. ‘being fair’, ‘general anti-bad-stuff campaign’), but carry on thinking of it in the same way – which is dishonest, because we’re not saying what we mean. Alternatively, we just forget about the ideas entirely and stop thinking about the concepts and problems that these awkward words refer to, which leaves both our language and our thinking on the same vacuous level. We really have to make this distinction: between terms that are just weird verbal tics and do nothing but put people off, and ones that still have important intellectual content. The first we can just discard, on the level of words. But for the second, even if we discard the words, the concepts and problems they refer to (however imperfectly) will still be there. And these ideas we will still have to think through, discuss, argue about, and try to convince people to take seriously. Sure, we need snappy slogans and soundbites for election campaigns. But that kind of cosmetic fix can only achieve so much. More importantly, we need a lot more sustained and patient discussion, of actual problems and ideas. And when these problems and ideas have names, we have to name them. If we believe there is such a thing as capitalism, or class, we need to tell people about it, not talk about something else.

  52. Paul says:

    Why don’t you focus on your objectives and clearly outline them for the benefit of those inquiring about the new party following recent media coverage (like myself).

    Your goals will define who/what you are.

    Speak the language of the people or you will fail.

    Life is about balance, the yin and the yang … find that balance and rather than attack capitalism, find a middle ground that will benefit the people and not lead to destruction by the 1%

    Tackle digital ! … want to appeal to a HUGE demographic ? Get the digital generation onboard and tackle their concerns, which concern all of us in this digital age.

    Looking to the past just restrains creativity, build something new.

  53. Julian Wilson says:

    I’m disheartened by the sterile debate about the medium being more significant than the message. Those like Ron Grainger, who claim that we need to dumb everything down as all working people are interested in is drink and their mobile phone, are more than a little patronising to the vast majority of us who have to earn a living rather than being born to a life of luxury.

    Frankly, what is needed is a proper return to the intellectual traditions of the past, where in towns and cities across Britain groups of working people seriously debated politics and economics (today I would add the environment). A proper reading of Marx is essential, to me, for understanding the ongoing economic crisis and for developing strategies for the future. This may not require reading the three volumes of Capital, shorter pamphlets are often a more accessible way into concepts such as the Labour Theory of Value, something I have alluded to at trade union branch AGMs etc.

    I have spent a lot of time recently researching the history of the branches of the SDF and ILP in West Kent from the 1880s to the end of WW1,and – especially at the grassroots – the level of debate, the genuine democratic traditions, the adaptation of Marxism to practical conditions and the strong internationalist focus of the democratic socialist movement at that time should be something to aspire to.

    Fraternally

  54. Jane Tovell says:

    I have only just become aware of the existence of Left Unity and I am much encouraged by what I read. I am totally with you Jo Lo, due to bad press and the Russian and Chinese connotations associated with socialism, these terms can evoke a sense of distrust and outdated ideas.


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