The conservative left

Being socialists, we realise that in order to bring about the social change we seek we need large numbers of people, yet the vast majority of left groups today are small, even when compared with bourgeois political parties, let alone the mass movements of yester-year.  This prompts many thinking leftists to ponder the question of recruitment, how can we grow our organisation or our movement.  Quite naturally we try to look at this question empirically, what has worked for us, where have we recruited from in the past, this approach however, which seems fairly dominant on the left, is flawed.

It may seem tautological, but it is important to realise that the left that exists today is composed of the people who are drawn in by the methodology of the left today, and they are a very small percentage of the population.  This means that whenever we look within our own ranks to discern “what has worked” the answer that will invariably return is “more of the same”.

“We recruited comrades X and Y from that ill-attended public meeting last year, lets do one of those again”, “standing in that election allowed us to sign up ten more comrades, lets do more of that”.

This in-built conservatism (with a small C!) is furthered by the fact that the existing membership are predisposed to like your present methodology, after all it was the basis on which they were recruited, and having being practicing it for the duration of their membership it is well within their comfort zone.

The combination of this inertia with a utter lack of ambition and a focus on short-term gains has ensured that the left has remained marginalised over the past decade.  The obsession with propaganda, often left immeasurable through lack of metric, lest someone realise the ineffectually of the entire approach, I believe, is the primary way this conservatism manifests itself.  That’s not to say propaganda is counter-productive, it is still a “net positive”, its still better to produce it than not, but with our movements resources limited as they are we have to seriously question whether this approach ought to remain our priority, or whether our resources could be better invested elsewhere.

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6 responses to “The conservative left

  1. Ah yes, I have observed this phenomena as well. Locally it manifests around big protests

    Q: “Why should the movement spend so much time/resources/money on organizing against the G8?”

    A: “Becuase we are recruiting people through it.”

    “Oh come on, really?”

    “Well I was originally radicalized via a protest some years back… and so were most people here.”

    What does that prove?

  2. This is partly why I left the SSP. It’s just embarrassing that they stand in every election only to be made a mockery of. Grass roots campaigns are much more successful in recruiting people in the long term because people will trust a group more if they see that the true reason that groups are out in the street/at picket lines/at protests/at demos is truly for that cause, rather than to just show face and get a wee bit of publicity.

    I feel that getting involved in party politics changes an organisation. It changes them into doings things for the sake of membership or publicity rather than because they truly think something is wrong or whatever.

  3. WeeLydia, I think your right with regards to party politics, there does seem to be a trend of socialist organisations dipping their toe in electoral politics and swiftly getting sucked in (like some crazy quicksand), to the point where besides recruitment it becomes the main activity. I think in the case of the SSP a big part of the reason this happened is because it had some initial success in elections, and many people were then recruited to the party on the basis that they were aware of it through its electoral work.

    That said, I’m not sure I understand why there seems to be a general trend towards electoral obsession on the left… I think the SP and SWP have fallen into this trap as well.

  4. I dont disagree with you that our current method of working is sub-optimal. But I think its a lack of imagination that leads to it.

    The SSP in its hey day gained its influence from having a well known figurehead that drew people in, and success begat success. That strategy turned out to be a disaster.

    The question is, if we dont personalise the movement, nor draw people in in the traditional manner, how do we get all the people that sit shouting at their telly to productively working for change.

  5. I wrote this as a response to the question of what it is we can do when I posted this post elsewhere:

    “I personally think that the left needs to concentrate on building organisations that have a lower barrier of entry than political organisations, organisations that aren’t immediately idealogical in nature, but that speak to the collective self-interest of workers in bettering their own conditions. This might be militant unions in the workplace or community groups residentially, but the important bit is that they serve to build confidence and further organisation among the working class, once such organisation is wide spread, and confidence in our collective ability to change things is general, then we can crack out the ideology and propaganda, at a point where people are more likely to be receptive. Basically, I’m a Syndiclist…”

  6. Pingback: The Conservative Left. « Norfolk Community Action Group

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