Most people reading this blog will have participated in some form of political campaign. Indeed campaigns, whether to save the local library or earn workers a living wage, are the bread and butter of left wing activism. Sometimes these campaigns are won, sometimes lost. Sometimes, all too often in fact, we find ourselves having to fight the same campaign all over again. Clearly there are many factors that determine the fate of a campaign but crucially only some of those factors are within our power to alter.
Any campaign is made up of the same basic ingredients, popular participation, finance, activists etcetera. The degree to which a campaign is well funded, its ability to mobilise people and its shrewdness of tactics all have a concrete effect on its outcome. Most campaigns, whilst often run by seasoned campaigners, find themselves starting from scratch with regards to much of this. A bank account must be set up and funds raised to populate it. Activists must be trained in various skills or learn on the job how to manage the media, build demonstrations and negotiate with officials. Contacts lists must be built and websites must be created.
Naturally these many tasks are time consuming and the better each is performed the more likely the campaign to win. This is why an organising approach, where individual campaigns are used to build longer-term organisation, can yield far better results. At the conclusion of any campaign the wealth of experience, knowledge, contacts and finance that has been accumulated typically disappears. Using campaigns to build permanent organisations such as unions or tenants groups allows campaigners to consolidate the power wrought by their campaign, and gives a stronger base for future victories.
Permanent organisations can also enable more than immediate victories. When a campaign is won the confidence of those in it and indeed all those who witness it that they too can make positive social change grows. This confidence can easily dissipate though, without structures in place to nurture and strengthen it. The left doesn’t have access to mass media to get our message out there, so our strategy must be asymmetric, using organisations to communicate with members brought in through campaigns. In this way we can consolidate the confidence of participants and solidify it into a general culture of fighting back.
But culture and willingness is only one aspect of out capacity to fight and win. Power, our ability to effect the course of events, is ultimately derived from how organised we are. By being able to train activists between campaigns, provide serious finance and to maintain contact networks, organisations like trade unions have real power should they choose to wield it.
Looking at campaigns and organisations is of course only looking at one side of the equation. In examining why campaigns fail or succeed we also need to examine why it is we find ourselves continually fighting them. The answer, ultimately, has to be the capitalist system, who’s relentless drive for profits at the expense of all else wreaks destruction on our communities and workplaces. But just as individual campaigns address individual symptoms of this underlying problem, opposition to capitalism can only oppose the symptoms, the excesses of this system.
This is because opposition in and of itself provides no alternative. To this day there has been only one coherent alternative presented: socialism. Socialism proposes tackling capitalism at its roots, in the economy which generates its vast profits. By bring the economy under the control of the general populace (socialising the means of production to use the Marxist lingo) the capitalists are stripped of their source of power and wealth. In short, the only way to rid ourselves of capitalism is to bring about socialism.
The pursuit of socialism, the winning of individual campaigns and the building of powerful organisations all fit naturally together. Any genuinely mass organisation must campaign and win for its members or it will decline, examples of this are only too common. Individual campaigns , on the other hand, that do not serve to build organisations, risk squandering their resources and experience come victory or defeat. Ultimately, socialist or not, we need to make ourselves organisers rather than campaigners, building long-term capacity to win and win again.