Sunday, 14 December 2014

Onwards and Outwards?

image yvonne forster
After 35 years of neoliberal economics working class Britain is not doing well.  A recently published report shows that in 2011 nine out of the ten poorest regions in North West EU countries were in Britain (1). The figures for 2009-10 in the UNICEF report 'Child well-being in rich countries-a comparative overview' puts Britain fourteenth out of the twenty nine 'most advanced economies' (2). Doesn't sound too bad until you realise that is pretty much last place out of NW European countries with a similar post WWII experience. Also reported this summer was that out of the twenty eight EU countries the UK comes in twenty sixth in terms of loneliness- that is not having someone you could turn to and rely on in a crisis (3). After three decades of what Harvey termed the economics of class war (4) the British working class is atomised, alienated, lonely, precarious and increasingly why aren't people turning to the Left and/or anarchism in their droves? Well obviously the 'cultural hegemony' (5) constructed over the last three decades by the Neoliberal Right via the state and media has portrayed the current economic/political construct as necessary and 'normal' while simultaneously marginalising alternative narratives so that many have forgotten or never heard of other models of economic/political/social organisation-however an at least intuitive desire for a more just, equal society remains, however unfocussed or ill informed it may be.  

For some while I have been wondering how the UK Left/anarchism can facilitate the working class to actively engage in political contestation and struggle, how the working class in one of the most hyper capitalist societies can be woken up from the soporific effects of 'the spectacle' (6)- that seamless representation of the world from a (neoliberal) capitalist perspective propagated by the media, corporations and state-a 'spectacle' that we have spent so many decades exposed to that we have internalised it's values, unquestioningly perform its norms.

About a year ago I did a course on Futurelearn (7) called 'The Secret Power of Brands' (8)(good to 'know your enemy') which included the idea of a Venn diagram in which one circle contains the felt needs of your target group, the other circle your organisation's attributes-in the overlap of the two circles are the aspects of your organisation that meets those felt needs, the aspects that the organisation needs to communicate (8). Obviously this was to do with businesses but transposable to other spheres. In an online article 'The Left Can Win' Pablo Inglesias of the Spanish Podemos party-that emerged from the Indignados movement- makes the point that the Left needs to communicate in a language that people understand about things that people are bothered about, that there has to be a tie up between what we are talking about and what people are experiencing or we are irrelevant while having the correct analysis (9).We need to disrupt the top down dominant discourses that people read and hear by listening to people and talking with them about the things that matter to them in a way that alerts people to the misleading, elite-serving, disempowering narratives they have been given and empowers people to engage and create change. 

Similarly a recent 'Red Pepper' article/interview with Podemos member Eduardo Maura comments that the Left needs to have a better grasp of "class compositions and identities" (10) which are far more complex and fragmented than before the neoliberal era, and to have a better understanding of people's lived experiences so that it can communicate effectively (10). Podemos seems to be a political party that is closely aligned with progressive grass roots movements, it has managed to embed itself in local communities with many local branches as well as using social media/ the internet extensively in order to enable involvement and participation in discussion and decision making for as many people as possible (10). This model of a movement with multiple access points so that people with busy fragmented lives can get involved in the way they can manage has to be taken seriously as for many people an initial involvement that includes conferences, reading lengthy books and protests may be a bit too much. Meanwhile, further down the Mediterranean coast in Greece the group Solidarity4All links together various grass roots groups working to alleviate the poverty many are experiencing by enabling the 'exchange of knowledge and information' between these different 'solidarity groups' (11). These groups, as well as helping to alleviate suffering, give people the chance to get involved in making a positive difference (11).

In Scotland earlier this year the 'Yes' campaign was a diverse movement that included many on the Left including The Radical Independence Campaign who again saw the need to communicate to people about the things that concern them in a language they understand (12), they gave their local groups 'autonomy' within a national framework and engaged in 'mass canvassing' events in areas and at sporting events as well as running 'community events' (12). While the 'Yes' campaign failed to win the vote their grass roots model of campaigning seems to have been very effective at engaging people in local, community based discussion and participation.

All of the above examples are peculiar to time and place, in circumstances different to our own but they do give us clues as to how the Left/anarchism could engage more effectively with the world around us- exploring how anarchism answers the felt needs people have, listening to people and their concerns and then trying to give them a better analysis of the causes of their problems in a language they understand, having a localised and online movement that has multiple points of access so that people can learn, understand more clearly, engage and participate in a way they can manage. It will almost certainly be a bit messy and include mistakes but the need for a clearer, more effective communication of radical Left/anarchist politics is paramount.    


(1) Rickman, D. (2014) 'Are 9 of the poorest region in northern Europe really in the UK?

(2)'Child well-being in rich countries-a comparative overview'  UNICEF UK

(3) Bingham, J. 'Britain the loneliness capital of Europe' . 18-6-14.

(4) Harvey, D. (2005 ) ‘A Brief History of Neoliberalism’, Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York.

(5) Thomas, M. (ed)(2012) ‘Antonio Gramsci: Working-Class Revolutionary’, Workers’  Liberty, London

(6) Debord, G. (1968) 'The Society of the Spectacle'. Black and Red, USA.


(8) 'The Secret Power of Brands' UEA

(9) Inglesias, P. (2014) 'The Left Can Win' 12-9-2014

(10) Dolan, A. (2014) 'Si se puede' in Red Pepper, Issue 199, Dec/Jan 2015, Socialist Newspaper (Publications), London.

(11) Prentoulis, M. (2014) 'Party Time'  in Red Pepper, Issue 199, Dec/Jan 2015, Socialist Newspaper (Publications), London.

(12) Shafi, J. (2014) 'Another Scotland is-still- possible' in Red Pepper, Issue 199, Dec/Jan 2015, Socialist Newspaper (Publications), London.

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