Time to Take Centre Stage

This should be a great time to be a socialist. The inherent instability of capitalism lies exposed more than at any time since the Great Depression. Levels of economic inequality in Britain are unmatched in any industrial nation other than the US. Unemployment figures creep inexorably upwards, threatening to dwarf those from the dark days of the 1980s. Comment pages in the respectable, middle class press worriedly ask whether we are witnessing the end of capitalism or merely its radical transformation.

Yet the response from Britain’s working class has so far been muted at best. French and Italian workers stage general strikes and Greece is rocked by massive protests, but the best Britain’s workers can muster is a small – if impressive – campaign of unofficial action against the use of non-unionised foreign labour to undercut local workers. Leftwing groups organise demonstrations declaring that Britain’s working class won’t pay the price for a crisis caused by the bosses, but by and large these attract only the usual crowd of seasoned protestors. Predictions by the police of a “summer of rage” in 2009 seem more like a transparent plea for more power and resources than a credible assessment of the likelihood of civil disorder.

As a consequence of all this, the Government is under no pressure to propose progressive solutions to the recession. On New Labour’s agenda for this year: further restrictions on the right to claim benefits, the part-privatisation of Royal Mail and an even greater role for the private sector in education and health. Billions of pounds are transferred to the banks from the taxpayer, without any increase in democratic control over the economy.

Why no backlash from the British victims of the recession? Part of the answer lies in a process begun in Britain thirty years ago by Margaret Thatcher. The smashing of union power, privatisation of council housing and deliberate promotion of the financial sector over manufacturing gradually broke down bonds of community and solidarity within working class communities and workplaces. Crime – which doubled under Thatcher as a predictable consequence of her social reforms – replaced empathy with fear in many working class areas of Britain. Thatcher’s famous refrain “There is no such thing as society” seemed like wishful thinking when she said it in 1987. Increasingly, it appears as though her wish has come true. Through its thirty-year onslaught against the values of collectivism and cooperation, neoliberalism has undermined the ability and the willingness of the working class to mount collective resistance.

Labour first failed to oppose Thatcherism, then enthusiastically took up the neoliberal baton under Blair. This denied the working class what had until then been the best method for defending its interests, but also opened up a huge political vacuum. Turnout slumped to 60% as people correctly perceived that all the major parties were organised in the interests of the middle and upper classes. The Left might have been expected to eagerly exploit this vacuum, given its professed desire to lead the workers towards revolution, but they have not. In fact, the left finds itself today with no real roots in working class communities. The far right looks far better placed to capitalise on Labour’s abandonment of its core supporters. How did this happen?

To some extent, the left are victims of the drift towards reactionary politics in British society generally, from which the working class have not been immune. However, the left has conspired in its own demise among the working class. As their representation in organised labour diminished, and following the wave of student rebellions in 1968, many left groups reoriented towards a more reliable market. Opposition to US foreign policy in British universities as well as the accessibility of campuses had long encouraged the left to recruit heavily among students. The harder it became to organise workers, the more tempting the prospect of student recruits became.This preference for the student option has had a number of negative side effects for the left. Groups that have a large student membership inevitably experience a high turnover of members, as graduates enter middle class professions, buy houses and become distanced from the concerns of the left. More damagingly, in chasing students, groups on the left have readjusted their priorities to make themselves appealing to a middle class market. Issues such as the Iraq War, climate change and global justice have become the focus at the expense of issues of more immediate concern to working class people such as crime, housing and education. All of this increases the distance between the left and the working class and leaves the far right able to claim that it alone represents the interests of the majority.

To begin to reclaim the right to speak for the working class, the left must first attempt to build a base in working class communities. This means addressing the immediate concerns of working class people, however unglamorous or unpalatable they might be. For instance: crime is a massive concern for working class people, particularly in cities like London and Liverpool where murders of teenage boys have been widely reported. The left responds by pointing out that the media over-report crime in order to distract attention from the real, underlying social problems. This approach leaves them out of touch with ordinary people, who are more likely to focus on the sheer horror of young men in their communities being killed for no good reason.

To address the issue of crime is not, in itself, reactionary. It is true that crime is in part caused by capitalist exploitation. It is also true that crime has a corrosive effect upon community spirit, increasing fear and suspicion. To argue that crime will only be eradicated once capitalism is abolished offers no solution to communities facing the immediate problem of anti-social behaviour. Where the left can help communities deal with anti-social crime, they will gain credibility and the trust of those communities.

Before any collective working class response to social problems is possible, it is first necessary to revive the community spirit that has sustained struggles for centuries. From the Black Panthers’ Free Breakfasts for Children programmes to the workers’ educational schemes established by the British labour movement, those on the left have long recognised the importance of providing a service to communities. Doing something positive for working class communities, rather than simply preaching to them about the unjust way they are treated, is the first step towards establishing roots in the working class. Community projects bring people together, reinforce solidarity and make people feel positive about the prospects for change.

The basic elements of this strategy are already in place in many parts of the country. Community activists who once would have worked within the Labour Party have established independent local groups committed to putting the needs of their communities centre stage. Dozens of groups have developed since 1997. From football supporters seeking to rescue their local teams, to health workers opposing hospital closures, this growing trend has involved a wide range of activists and ordinary people. Although some groups have put up candidates for local elections, on the whole the movement lacks a coherent political direction. It is also fragmented, with groups in some areas probably unaware of the existence of similar groups nearby. National networks and federations need to be created. Socialists should engage with such networks enthusiastically, but should expect to learn from and work with these groups, rather seek to control them or make them into “fronts” for their own agendas. Trade union activists are also well placed to create links with community groups. Community and trade union activists have already begun to cooperate through campaigns against post office privatisation, health service restructuring and the creation of city academies. These links should be developed further – not least because history has shown that workers’ struggles are most likely to be successful if they enjoy the broad support of communities.

If the left is to create organic links with the working class, its existing organisational structures must be completely overhauled. At the moment, too many groups on the left see their ordinary members as foot soldiers whose job is to propagate the party line. Instead, members should be seen as active participants with ideas and experiences that can help to mould the message and improve the strategy. It is vitally important that grassroots activists feel they have a real influence over their organisations, otherwise the left risks replicating the alienation they rightly criticise when they see it at work in industry, education and mainstream politics. The only way to bring about a participatory, democratic society is through participatory and democratic means.

We must be realistic about the scale of what we have to achieve if we are to build a movement capable of increasing the social, economic and political power of the working class. There is a tendency on the left to assume that working class people are itching for the opportunity to join a revolutionary movement. In fact, detailed analysis of public opinion suggests that the views of the working class at present are closer to the position of the far right than the far left. Immigration, for instance, was thought to be a “more important issue than health or education” by 52% of respondents to a Populus poll in 2006. An Ipsos-MORI study of the 2008 London Mayoral election results found that there was a far greater correlation between voting and ethnicity than there was between voting and class. Even white working class wards went for Boris Johnson more often than Ken Livingstone. In most areas of the country, BNP voters appear to be disproportionately working class. A report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation into inequality found that manual workers were less supportive of the principle of redistribution of wealth than the average.

None of this suggests that the task is hopeless or that we should give up faith in the working class as the agent of social change. Nor should it obscure the fact public opinion is notoriously contradictory and that working class people hold progressive views on a number of other issues. However, these figures do illustrate that the left has a lot to do if it is to rebuild support for its values. Rather than explain away reactionary views as the result of media propaganda, the left should listen carefully and respond intelligently. If we expect working class people to listen to our responses, we must first prove that we are worth listening to. The only way to do this is by pouring our resources into addressing immediate working class interests, establishing links with communities and creating opportunities for democratic participation. If we fail to do this, we have only ourselves to blame for what will surely be further decades of obscurity and frustration.

Left Luggage is an independent network of community organisers and trade union shop-stewards based in the UK. Its primary goal is to develop working class self-organisation and to reorientate the Left towards this aim. It also aims to encourage a culture of robust self-criticism and internal democracy. Read other articles by Left Luggage, or visit Left Luggage's website.

37 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Michael Kenny said on March 28th, 2009 at 12:02pm #

    This is a very accurate description of the situation in Britain and is a huge improvement on the mixture of hysterical ranting, wishful thinking and out-and-out racism which has marked many articles on Europe on this and other American websites.

    The only thing that jars is the anonymity. “About us” on their website gives you only the little “blurb” you see at the end of the article. No names! As a matter of common sense, if you are trying to win support for your political ideas, about the stupidest thing you can do is conceal your identity! At the same time, people who are “community organisers and trade union shop stewards” will already be well known in the circles in which they move. They thus have no reason to conceal their identity and no interest in doing so. In addition, Indymedia UK informs us that the group has only just been set up with a view to next week’s G20 summit in London.

    I would guess, therefore, that whoever they are, they are not who they claim to be and it would be very interesting to know who’s really behind Left Luggage.

  2. Ron Horn said on March 28th, 2009 at 12:04pm #

    IMO, this is the best article I have seen on the most important subject of all–organizing working people!

    The points that are spot on are: the left’s great emphasis on working with students is not justified given their propensity to merge with the ruling class-identified middle class; the left needs to gain the trust of working people by supporting grass roots efforts to cope with immediate problems confronting working people; left inspired grass roots organizations must engage working people as full participants in every sense of the word; the importance of linking up of such grass roots organizations.

    I don’t think that targeting students should entirely be forgotten, because many students will find it increasingly harder, because of the economy, to continue their studies to graduation and will be dropping out.

    Given that a lot of the left are working people themselves, political work as described in this excellent article will require a very serious and time consuming commitment. However, there is no other choice. And hard work that produces results can be very rewarding psychologically.

    I would like to see a whole website devoted to this subject.

  3. Ron Horn said on March 28th, 2009 at 12:11pm #

    In my enthusiasm I overlooked the information on the website listed. However, one needs to be set up here in the US relevant to conditions here.

    For some reason, I don’t share your suspicions MK. But time will tell.

  4. Maxwell Black said on March 28th, 2009 at 1:19pm #

    Interesting article. I’m not sure how to say this.

    Dear Fellow Self Radicalizing Internet Users,

    We need to start.

    I’m sick of the internet, I’m sick of blogs, I’m sick of my blog, I’m sick of reading about other peoples protests, I’m sick of being a hypocrite, I’m sick of you being a hypocrite and I’m sick of not doing something about things that I care about.

    I’ve started three essays recently and half way through realized I didn’t believe a fucking word I was typing.

    It’s time to start walking the walk. I’m not talking about violence, illegal stuff or going to prison “for the cause.”

    I’m leaving ideology at the door. We (and I mean WE!) are in stunningly deep shit! I guess what I’m saying is that we HAVE to become activists right now. By activist I don’t mean showing up at the occasional UFPJ parade (no offense) I mean full time. Like the second we get off of work we freaking activate!

    I’m not being preachy or trying to out left anyone. I have no answers and I don’t know what to do. I go to my stupid job like everyone else and when I have a moment I read websites like this and occasionally I write something myself. I occasionally go to a protest if I can talk someone in to going with me. That’s it.

    Sound familiar internet reader?

    We’re all from different backgrounds and have different interests but the very fact that our eyes met at the same website implies that we have enough of a common cause to come together. We need to start meeting up, with our guards down and our minds opened and try to figure out a way forward. This all sounds a little corny but I think it’s all true.

    I’m going to a talk with Mickey Z and Derrick Jensen in North Arlington VA April 25th. I invite ANYONE who can make it to come. To be honest I’m not even going to hear what they have to say (I’m a big fan of both and have already memorized their stuff!) I’m going to meet YOU. Let’s just talk to each other and seek out people who have already been doing this for a while and learn how to be activists for real.

    Let’s change the fucking world!

    Drop me a line at moc.liamgnull@80noitcejer

    Seriously, close your fucking laptop, stop being shy and find other people who care about things that you care about and get organized FAST!

  5. Deadbeat said on March 28th, 2009 at 1:37pm #

    This article is one of the most important contributions that I have seen on DV in some time. It offers the necessary self assessment of the current state of the Left and offers suggestion for how the Left can rebuild. The problem with recruiting college students is that MOST members of the working class do not attend college. Therefore the Left is not concentrating its resources in the areas where most of the working class functions.

    I totally agree with the author comments…
    To begin to reclaim the right to speak for the working class, the left must first attempt to build a base in working class communities. This means addressing the immediate concerns of working class people, however unglamorous or unpalatable they might be.

    This is very true of the Left especially when it comes to working class people of color. The Left must reach out to all communities in order to build solidarity. Also the author is spot on when it comes to various important issue that effect the working class the Left is very silent on where the Right has not. Issues such as divorce and child custody effects the working class and the Left has been extremely silent on. That vacuum for example has allowed the Right to recruit divorce working class men into such group like the Promise Keepers and other reactionary outfits which is extremely troubling and disheartening.

    The Left has been also been late on this economic crisis as well. The Right as for decades been warning folks about the anti-democratic aspects of the Federal Reserve.

    The author is extremely astute about issues that the Left seems to champion that at the same time appears to be out of touch with the day-to-day issues faced by the working class. While the Left seems to be “outspoken” about “Imperialism” at the same time the Left has been apologists for Zionism as well which has led to ceding criticism of Zionism to the Far Right. These examples means that from the working class perspective the Far Right has gain the credibility that is sorely lacking from the Left.

    This crisis provides an opportunity for the Left to alter course but that means working directly with the working class and especially within communities of color.

  6. mary said on March 28th, 2009 at 3:02pm #

    I know what Maxwell Black is saying. Endless talk and discussions…


    35,000 turned out today and there will be many thousands more on Wednesday when the G20 nonsense takes place in London. We will be marching from the US Embassy to Trafalgar Square. This action follows massive protests in January (100,000 at one rally in London) against Israel’s assault on Gaza. There were also many student protests on the same issue and this student action on campuses hasn’t happened since the 80s so you can see that there is a rising up against the rotten system taking place.

    Will these G20 ‘leaders’ take notice of what we, the people, are saying – that is the question .

    PS The Metropolitan Police greatly underestimate the numbers on these occasions.

  7. lichen said on March 28th, 2009 at 3:07pm #

    This article is the worst, the most stupid, vapid piece of tired, braindead dogma I’ve seen on this website. “Left” has nothing to do with class; just because someone is or is not poor has nothing to do with the ‘left.’ I do not give a fuck about “workers” versus this or that other imaginary group; I want equality for everyone, in direct democracy. There will never be another marxist revolution, and people are not going to respond to tired trostsky shit because it is dull, wasted, and idiotic. It is not your place to try to question or control what students do, but yes; they are more in touch with left movements than a bunch of 60-something trotskyites holding meetings at factories.

  8. Max Shields said on March 28th, 2009 at 3:34pm #

    lichen you have a mighty good point.

    My argument is there are NO workers anymore in the USA. The notion of worker has so transmogrified as to be unrecognizable from the early labor movement.

    On the other hand, I don’t think it was a person (Thatcher) who had the power to actually undermine and obliterate not only the labor movement but community; though she and her partner Reagan certain moved the ball in that direction. It is more complex and evolved than that. But does it matter?

    Maxwell makes an interesting point, but I’ve had these meet ups and they don’t get us any where as long as they are seen as a prelude to some sort of action “against”. Neither do the marches which are so marginalized that they’ve become almost a pitiful caracature of by-gone days when they felt real, felt authentic. When there was power behind them.

    I do think that planning, modeling the future are essential. A meet up that leads to this can be very fruitful. But “anti” dialogs are just a waste.

    The only real change will come with collapse. It seems that is in process. Collapse is the only way creatures, including humans, break deep habits of daily living. When life is no longer the same and change is not an option. What is then necessary is to have alternatives that transform (hence the planning and modeling). The toxicity of Western civilization is in our blood stream. It will not leave and change because we march or throw a fit or see the emptiness of consumerism and the hideousness of imperialism and empire.

    The collapse must be utterly inescapable to the power elite. As long as they are above the fray, they will continue to pull the levers. But the bifurcation, or cross-roads can be dangerous. Preparation is necessary.

  9. Left Luggage said on March 28th, 2009 at 5:01pm #

    Thanks for your comment, Michael, and thanks to everyone else who made a constructive comment.

    I wanted to respond in particular to your point about our anonymity, and the fact that we launched this weekend to coincide with the G20 summit.

    We’re primarily aiming to influence the British Left at the moment, so it seemed to make sense to exploit the opportunity presented by the coverage of the G20 protests to get our message out. The protest today is the largest, most organised and best coordinated attempt at a Left response to the recession in the UK thus far, yet it is clearly inadequate in a number of ways (as we show in our article). We thought it might, therefore, be a good opportunity to encourage a bit of soul searching among activists on the Left.

    On the anonymity / vagueness issue, you have a point. We’ve updated our site to give a bit more information about ourselves and to clarify what we’re trying to do. However, your suspicion that we aren’t who we say we are, while understandable, is misplaced. The reason we haven’t given our names has nothing to do with hidden agendas and everything to do with concern for privacy. We have no interest in concealing our identities, since we’re looking to make personal contact with good activists on the Left who share our goals.

    We encourage anyone who is interested in getting involved with our project to get in touch and find out for yourselves who we are and what we’re about.

    Thanks again to everyone for all the comments. It’s encouraging to hear that people are thinking along the same lines.

  10. dino said on March 28th, 2009 at 11:44pm #

    To big to fail-is an article by Arno Mayer at Counterpunch. He said 20% of the globe population live on 1 dollar per day and 50% from it on less than 2 dollar.This is a terrible injustice.Are now a hope that the global crisis along with the lessons on morale on the greed of bankers will change something real?First seems that no one is interesting that a change will come.”Washington’s prodigious financial, economic, military, cultural, and ideological power is not about to decline overnight in favor of Europe, Japan, China, and Russia, which blame American rampancy for the pandemic. Despite economic rivalries and diplomatic discords, the ruling classes of most “developed” nations fundamentally see eye to eye with their American counterparts. They do not long for a sudden twilight of U. S. power and demise of the dollar as the global reserve currency. Nor does Beijing, given its dire economic interdependence with America, despite its launching the idea of a “super-sovereign reserve currency.” To the rest of the world, the U.S. itself is too big to fail.”
    This remind a play written by Eugen Ionesco ,Amadeus.It is a short piece about a corps which,although is a corps, continues to grow leaving less and less place for the living people.
    It seems that even this level of wages:1 dollar for 20% and 2 dollar for 50% of the whole population of the globe could not be keep because a mass of very poor people from the “free word” is threatened by misery.
    “in March 2009, on the eve of the G-20 meeting in London, Robert Zoellick, the American president of the World Bank, forewarned that faced with the first major shrinkage of the world economy and world trade since 1945, the emerging-market nations of the Third World “need investments in safety nets, infrastructures, and small and medium-size companies to create jobs and to avoid social and political unrest.”The possibility of social and political unrest scare them.They know that the system can’t offer any real change.What Zoellick wants not improve the the burden of debts which was thrown on the back of the population.Probably ,as usual,a big threat,a big danger will appear as after a signal, in whole media, to sway the daily worries in an other direction,probably toward Iran.

  11. Deadbeat said on March 29th, 2009 at 12:40am #

    Max Shields writes…

    My argument is there are NO workers anymore in the USA. The notion of worker has so transmogrified as to be unrecognizable from the early labor movement.

    I would argue that there ARE workers in the USA but that it lacks being a working CLASS. Workers are very much divorced from working class interest. Clearly workers do work and are extremely exploited. It appears that workers are so indoctrinated to be made into embracing their exploitation.

    When life is no longer the same and change is not an option. What is then necessary is to have alternatives that transform (hence the planning and modeling).

    So what is new here. There are plenty of plans and models. The problem is which plans and model will solidarity be built around. The author makes clear how the Right has engage workers with their ideas, plans and models.

    Unfortunately solidarity on the Left plans and models is extremely retarded especially due to the Left lack of engagement with workers. And without solidarity there will be a huge void that will be filled by distraction and misinformation and misdirection.

  12. Deadbeat said on March 29th, 2009 at 1:36am #

    lichen writes…

    This article is the worst, the most stupid, vapid piece of tired, braindead dogma I’ve seen on this website. “Left” has nothing to do with class; just because someone is or is not poor has nothing to do with the ‘left.’ I do not give a fuck about “workers” versus this or that other imaginary group; I want equality for everyone, in direct democracy. There will never be another marxist revolution

    I would argue that lichen rant is rather vapid. I cannot fathom why anyone at this point would want to ignore Marx ‘s analysis of Capitalism and the understanding of crisis as well as class. In fact there has been an increase in the interest of Marx’s theory since the onset of the crisis. Analyzing why the Left is not more out in front at this particular instance in time is worth analyzing and discussing. However lichen position perhaps exemplifies why the Left is in such a sorry state.

  13. Max Shields said on March 29th, 2009 at 5:14am #

    I agree there are mainly two classes. Calling one “workers” is simply anachronistic and doesn’t provide the basis for real change.

    In terms of class there is the ruling/money class mixed in with some middle “men/women” who pimp for them, and most everyone else.

    That there is a lack of solidarity within the non-ruling class goes without saying. The shock is still in process. Yesterday’s habits of living are still playing themselves out. The “bottom” is still before us.

    Think how these habits were formed, how the unions became strong and then weak. If they were once strong they must of weakened as much from within as corporations and owners strengthened. Why?

    It’s hapless to blame the “left” when what gave the “left” what little power it had came from something that was snuffed out long ago.

    It’s a new day. We should deal with what is in order to provide alternatives that matter.

  14. mary said on March 29th, 2009 at 8:03am #

    A video of yesterday’s march in London

    28 March 2009 PUT PEOPLE FIRST

    There was a huge number of people, obviously many more than 35,000. There are some extracts from speeches half way in.

  15. mary said on March 29th, 2009 at 8:05am #

    The link!


  16. Ron Horn said on March 29th, 2009 at 9:17am #

    Thanks Mary for the link.

    DB writes: “There are plenty of plans and models. The problem is which plans and model will solidarity be built around. The author makes clear how the Right has engage workers with their ideas, plans and models.

    Unfortunately solidarity on the Left plans and models is extremely retarded especially due to the Left lack of engagement with workers. And without solidarity there will be a huge void that will be filled by distraction and misinformation and misdirection.”

    Every generation, every place in the world must draw and build upon work that has preceded us. It is now our turn to build a transformational model using materials from previous ones to fit our times and challenges.

    I don’t think that we, at this stage, need to physically get together. Living in Washington state, I don’t want to travel to Virginia to collaborate with others. Surely at this stage we can meet over the internet and do the work of constructing a model. After that a model will need to be tested in some community and retested until we get it right.

  17. Eric Patton said on March 29th, 2009 at 9:17am #

    There are not two classes. There are three classes: workers, capitalists, and coordinators. The term “middle class” is meaningless and obfuscatory. The left needs to acknowledge the existence of the coordinator class and deal with it.

  18. rosemarie jackowski said on March 29th, 2009 at 9:27am #

    Good article. Good comments. I have been a card-carrying member for a few years. The “S” word is so misunderstood and feared that even here (in a State that has the misguided reputation of being “left”) the Socialist Party goes under the name Liberty Union.

    Some of you suggest community action. I agree, but that is difficult in a nation that has demonized the poor, homeless, and those without health care. It might open an opportunity now that some previously upper middle class folks have lost some of their 401Ks. This might be a now or never time.

    Maxwell Black is right about going to hear Mickey Z on April 25. That is a good start but after the rhetoric, action will be necessary. One starting point I have been pushing for is “Single Payer” – NOT “health care reform” which is just another way of continuing to feed money to the insurance companies.

    Most of all, people should be reminded that Wall Street is just doing what Wall Street does. The anger of the masses should be directed at the Congress.

    About “workers” – most low and moderate income people ARE workers. The issue is that they are not fairly compensated for their work but you all knew that.

  19. Max Shields said on March 29th, 2009 at 10:59am #

    First, I share Ron Horn’s point.

    There can be an appeciation for various isms without simply adapting them as if “there is on the one hand capitalism, and on the other socialism”. This need not be about a simple ideological divide. Our problems are not solved, as we’ve seen by the adaption of one ideology over another.

    DB, it’s hard to take you seriously when you say we have plenty of models and plans, when the only one you seem to want to run with is Marxism (whatever that means).

    Stripped of its “ism” there are fundamental issues which need to be addressed. Most are based on relationships, common wealth, access to the commons, and economic sustainability. But the real struggle is with human nature. The desire to plunder is so instilled in “our” DNA that it cannot be ignored.

    Neither Socialism nor Capitalism are real. These are simply labels we use to sidestep the real problem(s).

  20. bozh said on March 29th, 2009 at 1:19pm #

    it seems to me that you are saying it much like i do. i may couch it in different words than you.

    so far as i can fathom, no ism can be defined. but a person may think that she can define, let’s say, fascism; and only her definition being valid; all others either false or incomplete.

    when defining an ideology, each word used to define it, must also be defined; then, words in the second definition must also be defined.
    it’s a process that never ends.
    yet leads to rancour/frustration, etc. it seems best to acknowledge that everybody is right by own definition.
    or just leave an ism undefined and let each person struggle with understanding or defining, let’s say, a constitution, fascism, etc.

    but we do know much of what marxists, fascist, theocrats, capitalists, et al have done.
    so that shl be listed first in an descriptive/actional lingo.
    natch, we can expect that people wld agree with the fact that US had A-bombed hiroshima and nagasaki but every cell in her body wld strongly rebel if she wld not rationalize it.
    the rationalization be identified in her bodymind with the justification.
    all we can do is to be patient and point out to such thinker that a rationalization is not a justification. it might help.

    let’s face the fact that for millenia we have been taught how not to think.
    the laguage in daily use is not our enemy but a great tool. language is OK.
    and one does not need schooling of any kind to use the language properly. it is schooled priests, politicians, illuminaty who regularly butcher the langauge.
    it is also essential we use the english that a person on street uses; not as obama, et al. more cld be said. tnx

  21. Left Luggage said on March 29th, 2009 at 2:17pm #

    Mary, you rightly point out that there have been some large demonstrations in London recently – against the Israeli attack on Gaza and of course yesterday’s Put People First demo. Tens of thousands of people demonstrating for progressive causes should not be dismissed.

    However, to bring about real social change we need more than one-off demonstrations. To have any chance of success, movements need to encourage a majority (or substantial minority) of ordinary people to take action.

    The Gaza demonstrations did not attract a representative cross-section of British society. From what I observed, most of the demonstrators were either seasoned activists, students or young British muslims. Since only certain small sections of society were involved in campaigning against the assault on Gaza, the Government felt under little pressure to modify it’s pro-Israeli policies.

    Had large numbers of ordinary working people shown that they were prepared to demonstrate, campaign and use their votes to show their opposition to Israeli actions, the Government would have been forced to reconsider it’s line.

    This is not to suggest that working class people don’t care about international justice, but merely to point out that the Israel / Palestine issue is not a priority for most people. On the issues that people do care about most – crime, education, housing – the British Left has not mounted a significant campaign for some time.

    The only way to make movements such as the Gaza campaign successful is to win the trust of ordinary people by mounting effective campaigns around the issues people prioritise.

    The G20 demonstrations are slightly different from the Gaza protests, as the issues of job security, wages, debt and public services directly effect a large majority of British people. There is undoubtedly a huge amount of anger about corporate bailouts and job losses, but this cannot be turned into effective opposition merely through a five day anti-G20 carnival.

    The Left is failing to organise sustained local or national resistance to job losses, house repossessions and attacks on public services. It has not built roots in communities and workplaces. As a consequence, very few working class people feel any kind of connection to the anti-G20 protests.

    I was at yesterday’s demonstration. Along with the usual mixture of Left activists, there were large numbers of global justice campaigners and environmentalists. Although the trade unions were well represented on the platform, very few of the demonstrators came from the sectors of society most at risk of unemployment and job insecurity.

    Building movements is more than a numbers game. Well over a million people demonstrated against the Iraq War, but failed to prevent Britain’s involvement in the US-led attack. Movements must create meaningful and durable links with large sections of the population if they are to stand any chance of success.

    P.S. Michael, we posted a reply to an earlier comment of yours but it has only just appeared. You might need to scroll up to find it.

  22. lichen said on March 29th, 2009 at 2:53pm #

    There are plenty of models and plans of the new left – post-marxism (like the ones brought up at the world social forum, for instance), that don’t need the ‘workers’ rhetoric of Marx, which is basically nothing more than identity politics. Like all identity politics, it makes vast generalizations about certain groups of people, demonizing or lifting them up on high in ways that have absolutely nothing to do with their personal politics. I would never join a ‘workers’ party or crusade or movement for daring to leave behind students, children, retirees, the disabled, stay at home parents, and others who deserve a place in society. One need only look to Maoist China to see how the stupid ‘workers’ rhetoric didn’t even end after the revolution; they felt the need to go around beating up intellectuals and making them do hard labour instead of creating equitable systems and improving people’s quality of life.

    Furthermore, the assumption that whether a student graduates from college and is able to get a decent job has any bearing on their political views is blatantly false. And likewise, assuming that just because someone is poor that they will share any left political views is incredibly idiotic. That sort of inferiority complex, wishing your political base was made up of someone else is ridiculous and stupid. The very poor, however, are largely not; they realize how passe marxism is, and ‘left baggage’ is going to succeed just as well as similar trotskyist campaigns have in the past.

  23. Ron Horn said on March 29th, 2009 at 7:36pm #

    I hope that the new society that develops from this capitalist one does not have Lichen as the Commissar of Ideas.

    Perhaps some Valium would help.

  24. Tennessee-Chavizta said on March 29th, 2009 at 8:38pm #


    that’s the problem of US citizens, they hate bankers, they hate Federal Reserve, they hate expensive, high electrical bills, high telephone and internet bills, high medical fees, expensive private insurance, bu at the same time they hate welfare state-nationalist-capitalism and socialism. How can i help my fellow americans if they hate socialism and love bankers so much. Most American citizens cannot give up their Mcdonalds, their Wendies, their Duncan Hines cakes, their Pillsbury cakes, their Betty Crocker cakes, our culture and marriage with Pizza Hut, with Little Caesars, with Dominos. We have been bombarded by years of pizzas, burgers, and cakes.

    Americans are like the wives who are beaten up by their repressive husbands but at the same time love them


  25. Tennessee-Chavizta said on March 29th, 2009 at 8:48pm #


    According to class-psychology. The best americans are the lower-class americans, if u think about it, middle and upper class americans are even against any change and mode of living in this country. Why? coz they don’t need change they are ok, but poor people cry for a change

    so what America needs is a political party of lower-class people. not the elitist and classist Clintonist Pelosi corporate democrats who sell themselves as “poor people party”


  26. Tennessee-Chavizta said on March 29th, 2009 at 8:58pm #

    Tell Obama: End the Afghan War Now — Don’t Escalate It!


    President Barack Obama announced his plans to escalate U.S. military actions in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including increasing the number of troops going to the region. This is bad news as it sinks the U.S. further into a quagmire in the “graveyard of Empires.”

    On the positive side he also made some good statements on increasing diplomacy and economic aid to Afghanistan and Pakistan, but the emphasis is clearly on military operations. For his full speech on Afghanistan-Pakistan policy see http://votersforpeace.us/press/index.php?itemid=1252. The military escalation will undercut diplomacy and development.

    Please tell the president that you oppose escalation of the military conflict in Afghanistan.

  27. lichen said on March 29th, 2009 at 9:42pm #

    There is no such thing as class psychology, there is only the psychology of individual people, which is either geared towards kindness, equality, and justice, or isn’t; poor, rich, or not. Thankfully there are people out there who see the new models, and are willing to implement them without requiring them to be couched in a dead ideology. You won’t build solidarity by throwing people out of a movement for not chiming in with a dogma or not being poor enough.

  28. Antonio said on March 30th, 2009 at 6:10am #

    A number of points in response to the comments here.

    I think Lichen is fundamentally misunderstanding some of the terms of discussion here. Being charitable, perhaps this is because this article was clearly written by British folks, to whom “working class” might have quite a different resonance to American ears, at least in common parlance.

    In Britain surveys have shown a strong majority of people refer to themselves as “working class”, which roughly corresponds to the overhwelming proportion of the population that earns a wage to support themselves and their families. So the term is clearly not nonsense, neither Marxist or Trotskyist (in fact the tenor of the article is completely anti-Trotskyist in terms of strategy, as far as I can see.)

    It is almost too banal a point to say it does not exclude students, children, the disabled, retirees, stay at home parents etc., most of whom will come from working class families. But clearly it needs to be said. It also does not follow that if you are a worker you are “poor”, as Lichen says. This patronising attitude exemplifies the problems some of those in progressive social movements have in relating to ordinary people.

    The simple and correct point of this article, almost too banal to repeat, is this: to achieve positive social change you need a mass movement encompassing a majority (or at least large minority) of the population. Surely we must agree on this? The question that inevitably follows is how to build such a movement. Remember we want to create something that will win over as large a number of people as possible. The answer that seems to present itself is this: find out about the immediate problems facing the large majority of ordinary people, prove you can tackle them, win support; grow; tackle larger issues, and so on.

    Sure, for students, the problems they are most immediately interested in might be the Iraq war or the plight of the Palestinians. Great, you’ve recruited some students who can do some good, positive work that can have a meaningful results and maybe lead to positive change. But for the vast majority of ordinary people (consult polling data, do a house-to-house survey, whatever, it will come up with the same result) the issues that matter most immediately are likely to be include such things as access to healthcare, the impact of crime, housing problems, unemployment, job insecurity.

    If you are a trade unionist looking to organise your workplace, how do you go about convincing your workmates to sign up? Most often, you stress the individual and collective benefits of being in the union: job security, better pay and conditions, protection at work, mutual support etc. You don’t argue for people to join a union because of its solidarity work with Colombian unions, or its support for anti-war movements. The ability of unions to work in these areas is a direct result of having built a strong movement able to mobilise support around these issues, as well as the institutional, democratic and solidaristic framework to back it up. It is important work, of course, but it is a product of the union’s primary goal: to improve the working lives of its members.

    We need to export that simple logic to progressive movements in general, if we are too grow. There are progressive answers to all the social problems I have listed, and we need to provide them.

  29. bozh said on March 30th, 2009 at 7:00am #

    antonio has a point,
    In US, many words have become dysphemistic/derogatory due to misteachings of the upper classes.
    a woman doing the noble house work, cooking, rearing children [cannon fodder for the ruling class] was called a housewife; and with time imbued with derogatory meanings.
    caveat, not by me. to me, all labors are noble.
    in europe, tho, not as much; people appear to be less ashamed of doing menial work.
    and because safety of the numbers; probably 98% of euros are workers.
    in US, the numbers differ. roughly 15% comprise the ‘middle’ class; 5% ‘high’ class.
    {the words under single quotes indicate not only that the terms are imbued with euphemistic symbolic value but are mostly used [unconsciously, tho] elementalistically; i.e., having not been influenced by any events or existing per se} tnx

  30. bozh said on March 30th, 2009 at 8:03am #

    how many ‘peace’ groups have ‘jews’? is it 101? and all against uncle sam?
    i hope palestinians convert to either christianity or judaism. with only 3 strong shamanisms to choose from and one ‘god’ to love and be loved by her/him/it, why not convert?
    after all, canaanites, bosnians, albanians, kurds had all converted to islam; and lived to tell the story.

    it is not the case with the hebrews; they converted to a judaic cult and have not lived to tell.
    hebrews are gone; they are no more; thanks to their mad priests.
    three mn euro-asians converts to judaism have also perished.
    judeans have also suffered a shoah. is the fourth and final shoah far behind.
    if it happens, it wld have been earned, says the devil of my own. tnx

  31. Garrett said on April 1st, 2009 at 7:46am #

    “The left responds by pointing out that the media over-report crime in order to distract attention from the real, underlying social problems.”

    So, should we not address underlying social problems? Should we start chanting, “build more prisons, build more prisons”?

    How do you honestly tackle an issue if you don’t address the underlying causes? How do you tackle crime or housing or education if you don’t address the amount of money going toward war/occupation? How do you not address corporate welfare?

    “Rather than explain away reactionary views as the result of media propaganda, the left should listen carefully and respond intelligently.”

    Is educating people about media propaganda unintelligent? If a person holds a certain belief because of media lies/distortions (or because “my pastor said so”), do you not try to explain that the basis for their belief is a lie? How can you address a concern that is based on a lie?

  32. bozh said on April 1st, 2009 at 10:26am #

    garret, you’re right about the idea that we cannot understand any issue unless we discover all of the causes for its dysfunction.
    causes of fire are thoroughly studied; reasons are, at least initially, ignored.
    one let’s go of the word ” why” [which may blind you semantically] and use the words “how”, “when”, and “where’ the fire started.

    {it may be noted that our rulers rigourously avoid the study of causes for malfunctions of governance}

    one needs not ask why US is not democratic but how/when/where it became whatever it is now.
    we can’t have when w.o. where, what, and how. people may think that the US structure of governance and society started in philadelphia in 18th century by bunch of patricians for the benefit of other patricians, but it is not true.

    enslavemnet and enserfment began at least 15T yrs ago and not in US in 18th century.
    for vast number of immigrants or ‘settlers’, their enserfment continued from europe to redlands.
    in short, interpersonal relations have remained structurally the same or similar. over millennia only cosmetic changes were introduced but institution are the same as they had been for at least 5T yrs. tnx

  33. Antonio said on April 3rd, 2009 at 7:05am #

    Garrett, I think you slightly miss the point of the article here. I don’t think there is any denial that crime is over-reported, or that it is caused by underlying social problems. However, we all know that there is not a progressive movement in the US or Britain anywhere near capable or fundamentally altering the structure of society.

    You mention that when talking about (a) housing, education, health, etc. we need to talk about (b) money going to war, occupation and “corporate welfare”. However, by putting it this way you turn things upside down. The fact is that the left talks about (a) primarily in an instrumental way to support their legitimate arguments against (b), rather than talking about (b) as a product of engagement in issues around (a).

    The fact that you counterpose “addressing underlying social problems” (which, at least in a structural sense, we are not currently in a position to do) with “build more prisons” betrays a lack of understanding that is rather symptomatic of the problem, if I may say so. Say the estate where you live is plagued by anti-social behaviour. As a progressive, what is your reaction to this situation? Tell people it is a product of capitalism? And therefore that it is inherently impossible to solve given that this economic mode of production seems to be staying put? How many people will want to get involved in progressive movements if this is the case?

    Does crime not contain an element of personal responsibility beyond the strutural economic features? Why do levels of crime fluctuate over time independent of economic circumstances? Why do areas with a strong sense of community and personal, social and institutional links between individuals have less fear of (and often simply less) crime? Is crime utterly corrosive to any attempts to build progressive politics in communities? I think these questions all hint at the necessity of engaging with communities and working towards progressive solutions to these immediate problems, rather than kicking them into the long grass because Marx told us that humans are alienated under capitalism.

    Finally, you can in fact “address a concern that is based on a lie”. In my experience people usually have some material basis to their views; that’s what gives reactionary views their power. So to undermine a reactionary belief, you can tell a person they are falling for propaganda, but to really be effective you also need to pay attention to what supports that belief. For instance, racism is often based on a perception of an unfair distribution of resources, which in turn is often based on very real social problems: housing shortages, unemployment, lack of community provision etc. Beginning to campaign around those issues could provide a point of unity for all those affected. This is just one example, but I hope you understand my point. In the course of struggles, it is amazing how people’s prejudices begin to drop away.

  34. Garrett said on April 7th, 2009 at 8:02am #

    “I don’t think there is any denial that crime is over-reported, or that it is caused by underlying social problems.”

    Not on the part of Left Luggage or anyone reading this site. But Left Luggage suggests that the left shouldn’t bother mentioning those things when talking to folks about housing, crime and education.

    I’m not suggesting that the “left” (whatever that means) put 100% of the blame on things like poverty and war profiteering…I’m saying that to omit them entirely in any discussion about housing, crime and education would be absurd.

  35. Left Luggage said on April 8th, 2009 at 8:44am #

    Thanks for the many constructive and interesting comments on this article. Regarding the issue of crime, which has been mentioned by Garrett and others, please see our latest article which considers if and how the Left should address this problem:


  36. Garrett said on April 8th, 2009 at 1:34pm #

    LL wrote, “…but it makes no sense to disregard personal responsibility in these cases.”

    Likewise, it’s senseless (and dishonest) to disregard underlying social forces. And that was my only point.

  37. Bill said on April 18th, 2009 at 4:21pm #

    this is an extremely useful and inspiringly honest piece. I agree with every part of it and have argued various bits of it at different times, but never put it together into such a concise and well written article. This reminds me of Red Action’s “shaping the future” (http://www.redaction.org/misc/who.html), similarly focused on where the class is, not where it should be.

    I’ll follow your other pieces with interest.