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Actually good advice from the Morning Star?

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Chilli Sauce's picture
Chilli Sauce
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Feb 15 2011 18:49
Actually good advice from the Morning Star?

Blasphemy, I know, but the sort of things a lot of people I've known over the years should've read...

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http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/index.php/news/content/view/full/101067

Most people don’t spend much time thinking about the radical left — we’re far too marginalised — but if they did, what image would come to mind?

I’d suggest something like this: a middle-aged pub bore who takes himself way too seriously, no sense of humour, prodding the air with his finger as he mumbles about something not terribly relevant in language you don’t really understand.

As he sits in his duffle coat, ranting at anyone who will listen, you do your best to avoid making eye contact.

It’ll only encourage him.

I’m exaggerating for dramatic purposes, but there’s no denying my basic point.

The radical left has a terrible image problem.

It has little ability to communicate in a way that resonates with “ordinary” people.

As it has been swept aside by the onward march of the right, this is a problem that has only got worse.

So I want to set out a few ideas for how the left could improve its PR set-up.

Before I’m drowned in accusations of cockiness, these are just my suggestions.

Please add your own.

And yes, I’m sure I’ve violated every single one.

But this is how I think that I, and other lefties, can improve.

You might think I’ve taken it too far.

Or not far enough.

But I think that, even if we take a few up, people will at least make eye contact with us in the pub.

Start where people are
Guess what?

Most people aren’t socialists, and have never — or rarely — been exposed to lefty arguments.

All too often, left-wing activists start on the basis that they’re talking to the converted.

A lot of the problems with the left’s presentation skills spring from this.

Get a sense of humour
People think that left-wing activists can’t take a joke.

This is a shame, because humour is innately subversive and we’ve got great left-wing comedians like Mark Steel and Jeremy Hardy.

It helps to engage people, illustrates your political point and shows you’re not taking yourself too seriously.

Drop the jargon
Seriously, you’re trying to convince people, not write a university seminar paper.

Skim-read a left-wing paper (I dare you) and all too often it seems that only someone with at least one postgraduate qualification can really understand what’s been talked about.

Other socialists seem to be consciously imitating the style of English translations of early 20th century Russian revolutionaries.

That doesn’t mean you have to be patronising — just accessible to people who are outside an educated, left-wing milieu.

The golden rule should always be to use the simplest possible word that accurately puts your point across.

In the early 1990s, John Carey wrote a classic book called The Intellectuals And The Masses.

Its basic argument was that middle-class intellectuals were threatened by the rise of mass literacy in the 19th century.

The fact that everyone could potentially have access to ideas that were the preserve of the elite was, well, threatening.

So to “keep the masses out,” they started using all sorts of jargon and complicated words.

This remains a big cultural problem in academia, but I think parts of the intellectual left have been infected with it too.

Raid the language of the right
Why not?

They started it, nicking words like “progressive.”

The cheek.

They use words like “modernising” (privatising stuff) and “reforming” (cutting services and sacking people), because it helps paint the left as dinosaurs and the “real” conservatives.

So how about we start talking about bringing the railways into the 21st century, for example?

Drop the hyperbole
The injustices we’re up against are bad enough.

Don’t start comparing our atrocious government to the Egyptian dictatorship or writing about our still young movement against the government like it’s the storming of the Bastille. People will laugh at you.

Radical ideas, moderate words
Lefties often think that, if you’re pushing really radical policies, the language you use has to be equally radical.

If it’s not, it’s almost seen as betraying your left-wing beliefs.

But you can promote ideas with moderate language without diluting their radicalism.

People who don’t already consciously sign up to your politics — that’s about 85 per cent of the population, by the way — will be far more likely to listen.

Tub-thumping, r-r-revolutionary rhetoric will win cheers from keffiyeh-wearing Soas students.

But that’s about it.

Ground your politics with examples that relate to people’s lives
During the general election TV debates, the party leaders were rightly ribbed for their constant “real-world” stories — like “take Janet, the supermarket worker in Dartmouth, who’s worried about her tax credit.”

That’s because it was total overkill.

But relating your politics to the everyday experiences of the people you’re addressing helps a lot.

It shows you understand their problems and it helps them to connect their issues to the solutions you’re proposing.

Jump on that bandwagon
OK, that’s pushing it a bit — but use hooks in the news.

The right does it all the time.

Take the tragic cases of Karen Matthews or Baby P — shamelessly exploited by the right, which argued it opened a window into “another Britain,” rather than just being isolated examples of the depravity of a few individuals.

I’m not saying we use those sorts of examples, because frankly it is horrible and morally bankrupt.

But we should always keep an eye on big news stories and be using them as hooks for our policies.

Get your priorities straight
International issues are important, particularly when they are a matter of life and death or when a government is repressing people “on our behalf.”

But the problem is that the left often emphasises international issues at the total exclusion of things that matter to working-class people on a day-to-day basis, like housing, workers’ rights, low pay, jobs and so on.

We need a far better balance.

Maybe do your Gaza stall on the first Saturday of each month and your living wage stall on the second Saturday.

Deal?

Get some non-lefty friends
I’m not saying start going to dinner parties with Tories and treat your political differences like it’s all one big joke.

But left-wing activists often live in a bubble, only hanging out with other like-minded lefties.

They end up forgetting that most people don’t share their politics and as a result they don’t have a way of addressing their concerns or countering their arguments.

Embrace the mainstream
Some left-wing activists think that being radical means being contrary and iconoclastic and waging war against mainstream culture.

You get articles slagging off football or monogamous relationships or other things that most working-class people hold dear.

The stereotype of the left-wing activist with long, dyed hair, lots of piercings and wacky clothes covered in badges is unfair, but — like many stereotypes — has some basis in reality.

The problem is a lot of working-class people (that’s our base by the way) will look at lefties and think: “These people are completely alien to me.”

Knock on doors
There’s no better way of finding out what “ordinary,” non-lefty people think than going canvassing and talking about what’s bothering them.

Rob Ray's picture
Rob Ray
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Feb 15 2011 19:10

That was lifted off somewhere else wink.

Samotnaf
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Feb 15 2011 20:05

This is utter crap.

I remember in the late 60s or early 70s there were Young Communist Party hacks who'd tell their new recruits to keep their hair short, wear respectable clothing and not smoke dope. "It'll alienate the workers". It took them some time to finally realise that possibly a majority of the young rebellious working class had long hair, didn't care much about what they wore and smoked dope. Having lifted it from the left of the Labour Party and the Morning Star should tell you something about where you've gone completely cracked.

If you think you influence people - and yourself - by worrying about your image then you're totally immersed in this society where social relations are mediated by roles. In your case, the political role of trying to win people over. You haven't even begun to oppose this society. If you carry out this set of prescriptions in the contrived manner you expect people to adhere to them (as if some of these things shouldn't just come spontaneously by your desire to communicate), you will be completely defined by what this society defines as 'normal' - i.e. sterile. But you won't connect, you won't discover and you won't make either friends or enemies. And anybody who doesn't see through your pose will be easy targets for anybody's (right/left/centre/fascist/anarchist/whateverist) manipulations.

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waslax
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Feb 16 2011 02:07

Yeah, agree with Samotnaf, this is PR advice for leftists (i.e not communists), who want to gain followers (party members and supporters) and be 'popular'. It is basically saying leftists should learn from what the Right has done to gain popularity. Hey, if that's your goal, go right ahead. But it is the road to full integration into the political mainstream, for any leftists not already there.

Sure, there a few good points, but they are quite obvious, such as the one on humour. Like we don't know about that? Just check out Libcommunity. The image painted applies quite well to much of the Trot scene. But to the milieu of lib. com.'s and ultra-leftists? Well, okay, there are definitely some, but not most, I would think.

Rob Ray's picture
Rob Ray
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Feb 16 2011 08:24
Quote:
by worrying about your image then you're totally immersed in this society where social relations are mediated by roles.

I agree to a certain extent, but what I got from this is that mostly it isn't aimed at telling hippies to get a haircut but at leftists whose first reaction when they meet new people is to hector them with earnest conversations about things they aren't interested in and use language which is only understandable to other leftists.

There's absolutely a point if you're left wing/anarchist in making what you have to say understandable and relevant, stylistic considerations aside. As waslax points out, this should be fairly obvious, but there's a lot of people for whom it just isn't.

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RedEd
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Feb 16 2011 13:31

The problem I have with this article is that it seems to treat the 'leftist' as a person detached from the class who wants to intervene in it from outside, as if we were all SWP full timers or trust fund activists or something. That may be a little unfair on whoever wrote it, but still, I don't feel like I need advice on how to talk to neighbors, work-mates or fellow students about politics in a way that makes sense to all of us.

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Rob Ray
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Feb 16 2011 13:44

Of course you don't, but there's plenty of long-term leftists who are completely detached from normal life and actually do need sitting down and telling this sort of stuff (not chili sauce, obv wink)

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flaneur
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Feb 16 2011 19:30

If they're needing an article to set them straight on how to avoid being an oddball, there's not much hope for them, is there?

Devrim's picture
Devrim
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Feb 16 2011 19:38
Chilli Sauce wrote:
Most people don’t spend much time thinking about the radical left — we’re far too marginalised — but if they did, what image would come to mind?

I’d suggest something like this: a middle-aged pub bore who takes himself way too seriously, no sense of humour, prodding the air with his finger as he mumbles about something not terribly relevant in language you don’t really understand.

As he sits in his duffle coat, ranting at anyone who will listen, you do your best to avoid making eye contact.
...

The stereotype of the left-wing activist with long, dyed hair, lots of piercings and wacky clothes covered in badges is unfair, but — like many stereotypes — has some basis in reality.

So the stereotype lefty is a middle aged pub bore with long dyed hair , lots of piercings and wacky clothes covered in badges.

Devrim

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Uncreative
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Feb 16 2011 21:16
Devrim wrote:
So the stereotype lefty is a middle aged pub bore with long dyed hair , lots of piercings and wacky clothes covered in badges.

Well, the punks of the '70s are getting on a bit now, aren't they?