Comments on Class and the Left (cont.)

Readers comment on our post, Class and the Left.

Dave Riley on organizing

My view — and I know its one shared by others here in Australia in the  Socialist Alliance is that you do what you can given the options and opportunities and any one time. Any formation is going to be a product of many processes and different formats over time. But where the left stumbles is that it so often cannot address that question in the here and now. Instead there’s much talk of future parties and such but without the sense or substance to get there.

That’s the real problem: getting from “a” to “b” and then consciously navigating that journey.

Part of this may be because most Left groups are small and don’t have sufficient numbers, money, or power to effect mass change. So it all ends up kind of theoretical, from the outside looking in. One possible reason why (aside from the endless sectarian squabbling) is that the Left can use old phraseology and terms that are so loaded that they produce the opposite of the desired effect. Let me explain. Here in the States, where most people don’t know what socialism is, mentioning it too soon can drive away those you want to attract. Someone said that as soon as John Edwards mentioned the word “class” in his recent presidential primary campaign, he was dead meat. That’s just the way it is here. So, unless you want to launch a ten year campaign to educate the US public about the concept of class, then maybe new terms and ways of phrasing things are called for.

In the UK, things appear different. People know about class and what socialism is. I once read an interview with Reg Smythe, the comic strip artist who did Andy Capp. He mentioned in passing that in the UK you can tell a person’s class by the shoes they wear. I found that weird, as would many Americans, and asked two friends, one English, one from Wales, if it were true. Well of course, they answered, as if it was totally obvious. (Can you tell a person’s class in the US from their clothes? Sometimes. Sort of. But Symthe was very specific, to the point of delineating between the lower lower, lower middle, and upper lower classes. Such distinctions are not nearly as obvious here.)

So, the experience of class varies hugely from country to country, something organizers need to realize. Thus, tactics that work in one country may not in another. Most people in the US oppose the war and are also finding it harder to make ends meet. This would seem fertile recruiting grounds for the Left, but instead, the Left seems isolated, unable to connect on a mass level.

Vanguard parties don’t help. Those same tireless organizers in mass groups often are in little Left grouplets. There is an inherent conflict between doing mass work like antiwar organizing and recruiting for their little corpuscule. A very real danger is they will deliberately exclude people in the mass group who don’t follow their party line. This drives away the centrists and the curious, preventing the group from becoming a genuinely broad-based organization.

So how do we get from “a” to “b”? Ideas?