The left is undeniably weak. Compared to our capitalist adversaries we have little in the way of finance and none of our organisations are as powerful or organised as the state. We need to be able to punch above our weight, and to increase our capacity so that eventually our resources enable us to force lasting social change.
So how can we ensure we get maximum bang for our activist buck? An obvious response is to concentrate our meagre forces so that our combined focus and strategy allows us to win things we would not usually be able to. The opposite of this, a scatter-shot approach, frequently results in resources being spread too thinly and consequently failing to make an impact.
In order to counter this we need to prioritise where we spend our time and money. Clearly there is a myriad of activities which can aid the socialist cause so we need to be quite picky in deciding what our priorities are. Of course in marking something as a priority it is implicit that other activities will be deprioritised. Sometimes this will mean hard choices, but if we aren’t willing to be hard-headed then we can’t expect our movement to get far.
Applying this logic more broadly we should be looking for a systemic solution to the underlying cause of many of the world’s ills; capitalism. This might mean that sometimes in our bid to fix this underlying problem we don’t go to the most oppressed first. We ought to more strategic and look at how our immediate actions can contribute to changing capitalism, rather than healing its symptoms. In order to help us make these decisions we need some criteria, how can we tell a priority from something less important? One approach is to help those who are most in need, to find the most oppressed and attempt to improve their conditions. Taking this moral approach to its logical conclusion often leads us down the road of simple charity. If workers are being paid badly we want to organise them to allow them to demand better wages, not give them some of our own money to alleviate their immediate plight. In short we look for systemic solutions to underlying problems, in this case a group of workers lack of collective power.
That said, it is worth noting that in order to bring about lasting social change we need to have the majority of the populace on our side. In order to achieve that we will need to demonstrate that collective action can improve peoples lives in the hear and now. Whilst looking at what will provide the best challenge to capitalism should be regarded as most important, frequently this will also coincide with aiding those in need.
In addition to looking at the effectiveness of our actions in contributing to the bigger picture, we also need to have an eye out for what will grow our own capacity. Organising workers not only allows us to remedy an immediate injustice and increase confidence in the effectiveness of collective action, but it also allows us to build on that workplace organisation, encouraging those organised to get involved elsewhere in the movement.
In summary, concentrating our forces is hugely important if the left is to punch above its weight and stand a chance of winning lasting social change. This involves being hard-headed about what is most effective and is best to build our capacity. This needn’t be completely heartless however as what is most effective will often also be activity that sees us aiding our fellow workers in improving their lives.