Why Lefties need to change our language


10:16 pm - February 6th 2011

by Owen Jones    


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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 setup. 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.

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. I think a lot of the problems with the left’s presentation skills spring from this.

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% 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.

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?

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

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.

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, who 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 using them as hooks for our policies.

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.

Get your priorities straight. Look, I marched against the Iraq war about a dozen times. 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 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.

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.

These are just few of my ideas, and 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.

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About the author
Owen Jones is author of ‘Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class’, to be published by Verso in May 2011. He blogs here and tweets here.
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Reader comments


Anyone who wants to practice this could do worse than come and hand out anti-cuts leaflets in an Essex high street on a Saturday afternoon…

I have to confess I laughed very loudly about the use of the word “milieu” in a paragraph asking lefties to use accessible language.

3. Arthur Seaton

Absolutely, vehemently agreed. Any suggestions for raiding the language of the right? The fact that there’s nothing very traditionally “conservative” about the flogging of our nation’s forests to the highest bidder might be a start.

Good article. I think you’ve pretty much hit the nail on the head here. Many left-wing activists do strike people as somewhat loopy. They’re the sort of people who, when the Lord of the Rings films came out, spent their time ranting about how racist they were while everyone else was just enjoying the films.

2 – Milieu doesn’t strike me as an inaccessible word, but then I have a degree :p.

Lisa – As I say at the beginning, I’m guilty of violating each one and, like other lefties, need to work on it! That said, although ‘milieu’ is probably not the sort of word you’d casually throw into an everyday conversation, I’m not sure it’s in the top 100 of ‘most inaccessible words ever’.

Another great article by Owen.

I’d describe myself & views as centre-left, but see the majority I follow on twitter as being far-left.

The further extreme left or right you go, the further away from the majority you go IMO. Even most average people that vote for Tories are centre-right middle class.

My view is the best the current movements can do is move groups one step left from their position. To attempt to move people more than this will only alientate people.

Deep down we all have common interests in quality of life, and services we enjoy that are being taken away through needlessly savage cuts.

NHS
Libraries
Forests & parks
Education
Taxation (VAT, PAYE etc)
Fuel prices

If groups like UK Uncut stick with these, and use imaginative ways to highlight these to people beyond Twitter there will be a revolution.

For me I cant see this happening through closing down Boots or Vodafone stores. The media has lost interest with this form of protest and now only seems to report on demonstrations if something kicks off.

The library occupation yesterday was new & fresh so was reported. If it happens week in week out the media will stop reporting on it.

I’m also a believer that sit down entirely passive demo’s carry much more than marching/chanting/violence. WHEN the police remove you, it looks forceful. This will make the media everytime.

Look at greenham common, evolve & learn from it is my advice to the new wave of student protesters.

I think it’s great that you wrote this article and had a good think about it – it’s things precisely like this that make a difference in my opinion. The thing that stands out for me is that it shows respect – respect for other people whether they share your opinions or not, respectful that other people might not want to hear your rant. On the other hand, they might want to hear your rant … these things need to be judged at the time. I wonder if a lot of us started off becoming politicised as teenagers with few people around us who agreed and a lot of patronising, and then maybe haven’t managed to kick the leftie-drama habit. That said, I think most people I know have dropped that. We grew up. Say what you think, but not by using behaviour which is against your principals. We are all equal, no one is better than anyone else, even tosser right-wingers.

Wholeheartedly agree in changing the way we use language. It’s sheer fantasy to expect to recruit people to our cause if they have no idea what on earth what we are wittering on about.
It feel it was a massive mistake in introducing international issues though. Many of the UK working class have came from other countries or may have family or friends living/working abroad.

Honestly, this article might as well of been written to me. Thanks, i needed to hear everything you said

scnnr – I made it clear that international issues were important, but there was often a disproportionate focus on them at the expense of e.g. housing, workers’ rights, pay, and so on. Check out the Counterfire website for an example of this. It’s just a question of balance.

It’s true that ethnic minority groups (particularly e.g. Bangladeshi and Pakistani people, over half of which live in poverty) are some of the most oppressed working-class groups, you can overstate the case you’ve made there. Only about 11% of the population have an ethnic minority background – and huge numbers of them were born here anyway, and may not feel any more interest in ‘international issues’ than anyone else.

Good post but you didn’t use the word “narrative”, there are some on here that won’t take you seriously without it.

You have ever such good ideas, and you have expressed them well. Worth thinking about.

I know this isnt quite the point your making, but ive always thought the Left has been consistently effective at using language to their advantage.

For example they always seem to choose terms to describe their ideology which have immediately negative antonyms; Progressive-Regressive, Egalitarian-Elitist, Equality-Inequality, Social Justice – In-Justice.

A very subtle but powerful propaganda technique, something Orwell had his finger on with the IngSoc use of newspeak and doublethink. The best Rightists seem to have as reply is to append everything with ‘Red’.

This is well-written and does make a lot of sense.

There is however a danger that in embracing the mainstream, jumping on bandwagons and “starting where people are” – whilst adopting moderate language and raiding the vocabulary of the right – the left-wing agenda is diluted to such an extent that it all-but disappears.

You describe an ideal that doesn’t appear to exist, although perhaps I’m not looking hard enough – are there any relevant examples? I’d love to read them.

Incidentally (as I’m sure you’re aware), although the 20th century Russian revolutionaries used absurd language in all their theorising, the newspaper articles and slogans were remarkably effective…

Interesting article. And, as always, there are bits I violently agree with and bits I violently disagree with. (Actually, not that much. I just like annoying people by alluding to violence as much as possible).

Radical ideas, moderate words.

Confirmation bias, yo. Have you read anything by the moderate left recently? I tried, for the sake of this post, but OH MY GOD I AM SO BORED I AM REPEATEDLY STABBING MYSELF IN THE EYE WITH A SPORK SO I CAN STOP READING. There’s a really obvious counterexample to this point. Those naughty Class War children. At its height, Class War was shifting about 15,000 copies a week. That’s incredibly impressive for the far left. And they were hardly moderate. Indeed, their language was aggressive to the point of self-parody. While you’re unlikely to want to take that approach wholesale (and there are other potential factors like their populism and deliberate tabloid style), it still bears looking at carefully. Because, as I said, the moderates aren’t managing to outdo a group that never had more than 150 members at its peak.

Drop the jargon.

STRONG TRUTH! Also, drop the historical references and the abstract theory. Hardly anybody cares what Marx/Bakunin/Trotsky/Bevin/Atlee/Chomsky/Zinn/Klein/Keynes/Jedward think, at least not at first. They want to know what you think.

Get a sense of humour

Why do anarchists drink coffee?

Because proper tea is theft.

(I do know better jokes. But I’d get banned).
Ground your politics with examples that relate to people’s lives.

Only if you’re going to actually make your politics relate to people’s lives. “Dogshit politics”, as it’s known. Without that, there’s no point in pretending otherwise. And this is one of the biggest problems with the left today.

Embrace the mainstream.

I agree there’s no point in attacking what are, at the end of the day, lifestyle choices. But I think you’re going too far in the opposite direction here. As something of a fraggle myself, I can honestly say my experience suggests most working class people really don’t care. To show my age, I was heavily involved in support work for the Magnet strike in Newcastle back in the 90’s. The vast majority of strikers were middle aged working class women. And they cared far more about the fact we turned up on the picket line and raised money for them then they did about the fact some of us had silly coloured hair and stupid piercings. (In fact, a leading striker who shall remain nameless always made sure Earth First! turned up on the grounds that “it’s bloody marvellous when they do that thing where they all get on the roof”).

Get some non-lefty friends.

And a non-lefty hobby. It doesn’t matter if it’s knitting, caving, playing Warhammer, salsa dancing or doing hard drugs at the weekend. But it stops people becoming one dimensional caricatures of themselves.

Much as I like this piece, by the way, it only applies to people who are actually trying to gain popular support. As I’m not – well, heck – I’ll drop the names of obscure anarchists like gangsta rappers drop their rhymes. Simon Cowell’s a fascist, yo’!

Two points I get constantly frustrated about and would like to re-emphasise Owen:

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

Oh god yes. I’ve had people not just do that, but also say that the events in Egypt and Tunisia could end up sparking something here!

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,

This is way more crucial than most lefties realise. I find that right-wingers look to find left-wing views far more than the other way around (which is also replicated on blog commenting).

20. Forlornehope

This is all in “The Road to Wigan Pier”. The moral of which is, however sensible this article, it won’t make the slightest bit of difference.

“The best Rightists seem to have as reply is to append everything with ‘Red’.”

Nah – they’re just *so* good at it that you don’t even notice because it’s become so mainstream. Owen’s examples of ‘modernisation’ and ‘reform’ are good ones for hiding a multitude of sins behind fluffy language, but probably the best is the pair of ‘tax burden’ and ‘tax relief’.

I get it, we hide our real agenda by being all normal boring square Tory working class types, then when we gain power we drop the charade dye our hair blue listen to some obscure indie s*** and then bring about a new soviet revolution, I’m with you comrade, or should I say mister…see I am learning fast.

23. Robert Anderson

The problem with these sorts of lefties is that they spout radical language and then leftie radical politics pretty damn quickly to pursue their nice middle class careers. Genuine socialists and I mean by that life long socialists do not use this rhetoric. Not to my knowledge anyway!

24. Black Guardian

Or, to paraphrase: Dave Spart. Look him up.

Milieu does strike me as an inaccessible word, but then again I have about 2 C passes in my GCSEs

Done. For some time. Next?

Hmm.

“The radical left has a terrible image problem. It has little ability to communicate in a way that resonates with ‘ordinary’ people.”

Might I put forward the alternative hypothesis? That it’s not the way that you’re saying it, it’s what you’re saying?

You know, the idea that your core beliefs might be wrong, that’s the problem?

Have you considered that “85%” of the population (an actually it’s more like 98%) don’t share your radical socialist views because they are quite simply stupid views that should be left in the dustbin of history?

Or perhaps you know best, and can see the light to which so many others are blind. The way you talk of “the working class” as “our base” is indicative. I’m sure your vanguard fantasies are fun, but perhaps a little care and attention to what Lenin did and the regime he ushured in is in order. Because when you claim the mantle of “radical socialism”, that’s the history you are arrogating to yourself.

Oh good, the Tory trolls are here.

Perhaps @29 is a good example of what not to do when faced with disagreement??!!

#30

Perhaps our target audience isn’t ‘full-time rightwing internet spammers’?

Fear not, I’d use different language with my Tory-voting friends who are actually, you know, ordinary real-life people.

Describing Paul Sagar as Tory is amusing…and I’m certainly not a full time troll, I thought you knew that I run the shadowy international scandium oligopoly?

I’m never really a fan of these “what the left has to do/should do” type articles. Almost everything you’ve written above could apply to the UKIP/Libertarian axis particularly the “middle aged pub bore” bit. Ultimately there is a good thread on political communication and campaigning waiting to come out here, but the above wasn’t it. I also note the criminal ommission of “stop trying to sell people trot newspapers and recruiting them to parties where they will be treated worse than the average call centre employee”.

I think there is a lot of good advice here, and well put. But there are some bad ideas as well – this would be my ten penn’orth. I think on humour , hyperbole, jargon, real lives,bandwagons you have made some sharp points but…

firstly, I would say, don’t start with a cringe. If you start off thinking that people instantly have such negative ideas of the radical left, – the ranty duffle coat wearing pub bore or whatever – all you have done is undercut your own confidence for no reason. Thinking like that is just going to make you into a trying-too-hard-to -please wimp-who-is-a-little-bit-ashamed. In truth the vast majority of people you deal with won’t have any particular preconception at all – they will take you as they find you. The real problem is that they will just ignore, or have no feelings at all about the radical left. Getting noticed at all is our first problem. there will be a hard core of Daily Mail right wingers who might want to put you in a (showing my age here) ‘”Wolfie Smith” box, but they hate your politics too. You will win them round or neutralise them by following a lot of your ‘good comms’ guide, but don’t start off worrying about them. I was a Unison Branch Secretary for half a decade, and my experience there was, don’t pretend to be someone you aren’t, but do care about the people you want to get involved.

Secondly on the way you describe “embrace the mainstream” – I would be a bit wary. In actual fact lots of ordinary working people have dyed hair, piercings and badges. If that’s what you like , then stick with it. If you are a vegetarian, or like “wacky” clothes – continue to enjoy them. Indeed it is odd that you pick up on the duffle coat as a sign of the isolation of the left. Actually it is just a coat. You do need to “embrace the mainstream” in the sense of understanding that other people might enjoy a whole range of different things, and not see your own interests (if you have them) as better or the defining factor . If you show an interest in other peoples lives, they will show an interest in yours. There are times when we all need to wear what is appropriate – times when you might want to brush back your enormously long left wing hair and put on a tie, say – but don’t get too hung up on dressing up.

Thirdly – and I think a few people have said this – I think the “raid right wing language” is mostly wrong, and leads to a kind of Blairite bullshit. I guess you could respond to “tradition” and Community” crap from Cameron by saying

Fourthly, I think that “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” is just plain wrong. I suppose it stung me a bit as I write (among other places) for the Morning Star. In fact I think you will find that the Morning Star, (or the Socialist or Socialist Worker) use very straightforward, non-jargon language. I think we might all need more humour and variety and imagination and vitality sometimes, but as a model for plain, direct language, the left wing press is not that bad a model.

Really it is about who you want to talk to and and what you hope they will do. If you want to get a minority being really radical, then a more closed language of the left kind of works. If you want to try and appeal to a broad range of people to do very little, then all that bland Blairite speak works for a while. But if you want to persuade hundreds then hundreds of thousands of people to take action , it is a finer art – and one I think – leaving aside my disagreements – you have sketched out well

Agree with mileiu – not a word that should be regularly used..

Anyway, generally I think you’re right on most of these points. The sad thing is you don’t seem to have noticed that actually a lot of people are already on board with all this. From local free sheets being produced in Hackney, Hereford and places not beginning with H like Stroud, there is a strong seam of radical grassroots organising going on. You could trace is back to Class War (a tabloid by the working class for the working class)

The problem is less use of language, and more that the “established” left (I would include lib con) ignores those of us “at the sharp end” in favour of thinktanks and internet blog debates. ho hum…

One thing I object to in this piece is the idea that “the working class” is some culturally specific thing where slagging off football, attacking mainstream culture and having died hair and piercings don’t fit in. That smacks of an article written by someone who has no idea what the working class actually looks like. I worked in a “very working class” pub (abhorring that definition as I write it) and these three things were all extremely common. Yes, some working class people like football, mainstream culture and dislike died hair and piercings. A lot of them don’t.

This is all the more true if you consider the working class to be anyone who has to sell their labour in order to survive – as opposed to relying on the use of capital/money – rather than interpreting it as a cultural section of our society. That’s how Marx and left theory generally defines the working class, but maybe that’s too academic for you!

(seriously, I get a bit pissed off with ideas of “the masses” or “the working class” that are more about culture than economic position)

Also, I generally disagree that we on “the left” should be pushing a PR set up to others hoping they join in. My preference would be to work from where people already are, and enable them to set the terms of debate / Public Relations.

But, “Baby, I’m an anarchist, and you’re a spineless liberal”…

There’s a lot I agree with here so sorry to pick up on the stuff I don’t, but:

‘Get your priorities straight.’

I’d agree but – and call me a wierdo if you want – I’d rate invasions of other countries, with all the carnage that entails, a higher priority than library closures.

Might I put forward the alternative hypothesis? That it’s not the way that you’re saying it, it’s what you’re saying?

You know, the idea that your core beliefs might be wrong, that’s the problem?

Wouldn’t surprise me. But if we’re to judge what’s right by what’s popular then (a) I don’t think you’re on safer ground and (b) it seems that federalism-flavoured corporatism has won the argument.

“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 engage people, illustrates your political point, and shows you’re not taking yourself too seriously”

The Situationists led the way on this one back in 1968. Everything was done with a not too inconsiderable helping of humour. Oh and Situs had great graffiti too like “Don’t liberate me. I’ll take care of that myself”. 😉

How hilarious that somebody called me a Tory troll.

I’ve only been writing articles for this very website for almost two years now.

PeterPannier: I’m afraid that when it’s time to throw bricks through that Starbucks window I will probably leave you all alone.

You see, a criminal record will really fuck with my career. Call me a coward (in the back seat of my father’s new Ford) but those sorts of constraints are what ordinary people live under. Have fun stringing your black flag high, but not all of us want to live in squats.

Or for that matter, sign to Madona’s record label.

Frankly Paul, I couldn’t give a shit how you define yourself politically.

But if you accuse the author – a mainstream Labour lefty like Owen Jones – of “vanguard fantasies” or “radical socialist views … quite simply stupid views that should be left in the dustbin of history?” then you are either a Tory, a liberal (de facto the same) or a rightwing Labourite (ditto).

Goon,

You have picked an incredibly apt monicker.

Agreed. Pretty much every word, agreed.

How about a Lefty swear jar, applied not to swearing as such, but to lefty jargon uttered in the outside world. Let’s start with ‘dialectics’ and take it from there.

A while ago there was a programme on TV featuring Nick Broomfield the journalist. He was talking about Eugene Terreblanche and his driver JP about whom he had made a documentary. Although JP had all the deeply racist opinions you would expect, Nick Broomfield said he couldn’t help liking him as a person, and got on well with him. In the same programme there was Alastair Campbell, high-priest of spin-doctoring. Campbell remarked that it would make him “queasy” to even share the same room with a man of JP’s type.
I’m frequently reminded of this when I read leftish blogs, because left-wingers often seem to have a particular personality type for whom a person IS his or her politics, and nothing more. Roger Scruton says the same thing:

‘Leftwing people find it very hard to get on with rightwing people, because they believe that they are evil. Whereas I have no problem getting on with leftwing people, because I simply believe that they are mistaken.’

It is hard to imagine left-wingers having to mix with those same people whom they hate and despise. Take for instance that familiar hate figure the Daily Mail reader, or the reader of the Torygraph. Although most referrals to this segment of the population are filled with withering contempt, often in a way which suggests that they are numerically few – “the Daily Mail crowd/brigade” and so on – they are, in fact, numerically a very sizeable proportion of the population, like it or not. And the common leftwing tendency to assign people to discrete categories/boxes is definitely counterproductive. People are complicated entities, often, fortunately, a complex mix containing contradictions, quirks and incongruities. Some of my views are indeed such as to inspire a reactionary label from anyone of a left-wing blog. On the other hand, having spent a year in the USSR in the 1970’s, I have many negative things to say of my experience, but I also remember my Soviet year, materially one of the poorest in my grown-up memory, generally as one of the happiest years of my life, and produced attitudes to the Soviet system which would make me persona very non grata in a Conservative club. Some of my fellow western students accused me of being a soviet stooge, while some Soviet students regarded me as a reactionary. Incidentally, my views as a youth were so far left that my brother was almost ejected from the armed forces on the grounds of his association with me. The world isn’t black and white, or even a straighforward continuum from white to black, unless I am simply a very unusual person. If the left want to have any influence in the world, they need to bear this in mind.

Interesting how you assume that to be on the left (or the ‘radical left’ or whatever; terms you don’t define) you have to be from certain sections of the middle class. Perhaps that’s your problem right there?

I forgot to say at 43, for those who have not encountered my occasional comments on this site, that I am generally regarded as a far right wingnut (I think that’s the term). My comment needs to be read with this in mind.

46. Lawrence Shaw

Some very good points Owen.

I think the point that in Marxist terms anyone who has to live on selling their labour is working class is an important one. Major tried to say “we’re all middle class now”. He was wrong – the reality is that more and more people have to work to survive nowadays. The working class is actually very broad.

I know I shouldn’t, but I always laugh very hard at the elements of the left who constantly proclaim themselves prolier-than-thou and berate others as being “middle class” or “PB” as an insult, but who actually themselves live sealed in a sort of bizarre leftist sectarian vacuum.

International stuff – spot on. We can rant and rave about Gaza or Egypt or wherever as much as we like but it will never engage us with anyone else other than existing lefty activists. Its good we do what we do on international stuff and fair play to those who commit their lives to it, but it will not win us more support.

In terms of engaging more broadly, I’ve done my time out on stalls etc…and sold god knows how many hundreds of papers. It always struck me that people were, on the whole, very happy to see the left out and about with lots of comments like “it’s good that you are doing this”.

But then that was it – it never went further. So lets be honest. All those papers sold clearly didn’t make any difference whatsoever.

I believe that to regain some ground, the left needs to stop going on and on about everything that is wrong and being negative. Everyone knows what is wrong. On the whole the public hate bankers, they hate greed and they want a fairer and more just system. We know this is true, but still we cannot seem to gain any ground.

That is because to make progress, we need to boldly state what our vision actually is – what modern socialism could actually mean for everyone and what benefits it could bring. We need to be positive about the future rather than falling into the media trap of pretending we’re all doomed.

Trouble is, nobody is doing this. We rant and rave and get angry about the nasty Tories and the bankers, but don’t actually paint any sort of picture of what our alternative is, other than spouting vague and abstract Leninist proclamations about democratic workers control then get into destructive and infantile rows with each other over wafer thin differences in tactics.

Until we get over ourselves and come to some consensus on what sort of society we would like to see, we will carry on chasing our tails and getting precisely nowhere.

Yup this is really good. Yet I fear anyone who is still “the left” now has been left behind a looong time ago.

see here for more

http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/newsnight/paulmason/2011/02/twenty_reasons_why_its_kicking.html

@ #39 Paul Sagar

“PeterPannier: I’m afraid that when it’s time to throw bricks through that Starbucks window I will probably leave you all alone.”

I’m so glad someone got my reference!

“You see, a criminal record will really fuck with my career”.

Indeed, one of my arguments why those without such constraints should risk criminal records is because there are many others who would do such things but cannot (this is also an argument for career types to offer as much support as possible to those who do take part in actions with a risk of a criminal record…)

“those sorts of constraints are what ordinary people live under”

I consider myself an ordinary person, thanks. An Anarchist and An Ordinary Person are not necessarily mutually exclusive. I’d rather not have a criminal record (and don’t yet, though I have been arrested several times), but I’d also rather not live under an oppressive and exploitative economic and political system. Sometimes the latter preference overcomes the former. This happens for all sorts of people, and – sometimes – produces revolutions e.g. Egpyt at present – many people doing things that a month ago they would have considered extremely threatening.

“Have fun stringing your black flag high, but not all of us want to live in squats.”

Don’t particularly go for flags, but neither do I live in a squat, or expect anyone else to want to. However, I do think that one of the most powerful pieces of activism of the last 100 years was the organisaiton of squats for servicemen returning from the first and second world wars by people such as Harry Cowley in Brighton. When the housing benefit cuts hit, I can imagine that the term/idea of “squats” may lose a lot of its negative connotations, as resisting bailiffs did during the Poll Tax

“Or for that matter, sign to Madona’s record label.”

Again, I appreciate the in depth analysis of my reference, but the band did this after writing the song in question. I don’t hold this band in any idolatory sense, and would call them hypocrits for this, but it’s a damn fine – and tongue-in-cheek – song, no? Cheers for noticing 😉

In short – I totally oppose the idea of changing our beliefs in order to appeal to “the public”, “the masses” or “ordinary people”. Either you believe something or you don’t. However, I do agree that expressing ideas in simple language is a good idea. But this is a general principle, not one that applies specifically to “the left”.

Shall I end this comment with another quote from a band with an equally dodgy history?

“Fuck you! I won’t do what you tell me!”

(tongue firmly in cheek)

But, “Baby, I’m an anarchist, and you’re a spineless liberal”…

Oh, man, I’d forgotten that song. Three cheers for obscure references.

50. Cheesy Monkey

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

If only. All around me where I live are the sorts of people who think the Nazis were pussyfooting pansies. I would love to hang out with more lefty types but I can’t find any. Well at least I can’t find any that actually like me…

Most left-wingers have a sense of humour. And most comedians are some shade of left or another. Name a rightwing funny fucker. Go on… yes? No? No. They’re too busy pissing on the plates of the poor. Ok, not really. But, still. Actually, the ‘humourless lefty’ archetype is a problem, ‘cos they’re the felchmonkeys who climb the ranks in all the leftwing parties, be it the joy vacuum that is the SWP to Thatcher’s gusset-sniffers in New Labour.

Read on for Cheesy Monkey Saves The Left…

1) Say what you mean and mean what you say — i.e., no mealy mouthed shit, no weasel words and definitely no fucking broken promises.

2) Speak (plain) English, muthafucker! — if you can’t express your ideas, your ideals, your philosophy and your policies in unambiguous language anyone can understand, then you ain’t convincing anyone of anything. Either that, or your ideas, your ideals, your philosophy and your policies are poorly thought out bumwipe.

3) We’re all adults here — or simply, don’t treat the people that you need to convince as children, morons or Kerry Katona. Difficult concept to express? See 2) above. Don’t dumb it down. If your opponent is burbling in political goo-goo, point this out. And batter him with it. Metaphorically, of course. Unless you go to debate with a lead-filled sock, in which case could I kindly suggest that a career in politics is not for you.

4) Call a bigot a fucking bigot — if you think that to get on, you need to appease racists, sexists, homophobes and Richard ‘The Hamster’ Hammond (he’s not really a hamster), then kindly fuck off. Stick your head into a plastic bag inlayed with more plastic bags like one of those Russian doll thingies, tighten and set alight. If you are willing to compromise on core principles, then you’ll compromise on anything, you gutless bastard.

5) All round to mine — embed yourselves into your local communities. Get involved with local campaigns – help out with those you agree with, take note of participants concerns of those you don’t. Try and make your local party or grouping the first port of call for people looking to set up a local campaign, legal advise, internet access or a good deal on a second ‘and motor. Perhaps. You are more likely to be seen as being for the people if the people can see you’re of the people. And that last sentence is guaranteed not to get you any hot banging. But it’s true.

6) Be true to yourself and fucking well stay that way — you’re in a political party or movement and an election or thing-that-movements-do happens. You were not successful. Do you: A) throw out all your sincerely-held beliefs and policies because some twat tells you that you didn’t appeal to enough self-centred knobcunts; or B) resolve to carry on, working on the clarity and presentation of your ideas if needed. If you answered A, then there’s a special circle of hell reserved for you, where Andy Gray attempts to cajole you into putting your hand down his trousers for eternity and forever.

There. That should do for now.

51. Simon Grundy

If I have to pretend to enjoy football in order to be accepted as left wing then you can count me out!

On here and on Jones’ blog, there’s a huge elephant in the room that most of the commentators are pussyfooting around: class. The middle-class delusion that, for example, you just have to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and be ‘sensible’ is embedded in the way certain people view social relations.

Also, the idea that the affluent, home-owning, professional middle class represent ‘normality’ (not reflected in median incomes I must add) is very much of a piece with ideological formations. A cursory look at commentators here, the Guardian’s CIF and right-wing broadsheets shows that certain ‘common sense’ assumptions among the middle class are more entrenched than any Labour/Tory divide.

I’d go so far to say that the working class are ignored and marginalised in the public sphere (unless it’s regarding politically useful hysterias like Islamophobia or moral panics over youth crime). The divisions between working and middle class run deeper by the day, but it seems that it’s the middle class who are more in denial regarding their structural complicity in this. Try and bring up class issues (apart from cliches like ‘toff’s and ‘chavs’) and the British middle class usually rush to change the subject, or become defensive and indignant that you’ve tried to rock their carefully preserved boat.

I should also add that I’m in full agreement with Cheesy Monkey (50) – but then I’m sure many of you would dismiss us as stubborn Trots incapable of ‘common sense’.

Well, I’m afraid it’s the ‘sensible’ members of society who are proving to be the most damaging under present circumstances. Fuck ’em.

Most left-wingers have a sense of humour. And most comedians are some shade of left or another. Name a rightwing funny fucker. Go on… yes? No? No.

Most truly funny people haven’t believed in anything much. The collective ideology of Spike Milligan, Peter Cook and Chris Morris runs to, “YOU’RE ALL IDIOTS!”

Two points on the post and one on the thread. One of which is mildly faceoutious.

On the thread – what is wrong with the word milieu? It is a single word, borrowed from French but firmly established in English, to describe something that has no other equivalent. It is not particularly intellectual (unless you want to describe the mentality of your average hip-hop artist as intellectual because they try and use words), and to suggest not using it is to risk falling into anti-intellectualism, which is always more dangerous.

On the post, firstly, you may need to consider why Jeremy Hardy and Mark Steel have only been limitedly successful as comedians? It may be because most of their audience is in fact politically in tune with thier views (I find a lot of their jokes as unappealing as I would Jim Davidson’s, because I have no political views in common with any).

And more importantly, why do the left consider disengagement with their ideas is a particular failing to them (unless they honestly expect their ideas to drive constant rebellion)? The right have the same issues, but so do centrist parties. Political disengagement is common right across the board – effectively, much of the time about a fifth of the population is probably politically engaged (as a total guess) with a bit more again informed.

It would help if the left and people like Sir Trevor Philips didn’t help the Tories in destroying perfectly decent terms like ‘multiculturalism’.

What is this”deal?” the new management or stepdad or whatever you Owen are impersonating here offering? You seem to imply that Palestinian solidarity and anti-imperialist work is some kind of exciting violent videogame which the left kids can earn your indulgence to play with their “totally alien” peeps by doing their dull and virtuous homework and helping some “ordinary” not “alien” fictional characters from thirty year old situation comedies fill out complicated forms and repair their chipped garden gnomes.

Cheese Monkey and Kaspar Hauser are right.

@ 58 Molly

I missed much of this thread at the time of posting… boring things like work and all that…

….but reading Cheese Monkey’s post @ 50, I think we need him as PM… or at the very least in Parliament 😉

@Galen10 – yes and his first order of business should be to sack Owen Jones the new SVP for left operations, because this memo is just teeming with icky fascioid motifs and assumptions. “The left often emphasises international issues at the total exclusion of things that matter to working-class people on a day-to-day basis…waging war against mainstream culture…. things that most working-class people hold dear. ” What rootless cosmopolitan alien left is this? It’s like he’s writing from some Philip K Dick story’s simulated England as designed after a text by Henry Ford.

@Galen yes and his first order of business should be to sack the SVP of Left Operations, Owen Jones, for memos teeming with fascioid assumptions and motifs: ” “[T]he left often emphasises international issues at the total exclusion of things that matter to working-class people on a day-to-day basis…. waging war against mainstream culture…[such as] monogamous relationships, or other things that most working-class people hold dear” What rootless cosmospolitan alien decadent left is this? It’s like he’s writing from a sci fi story’s simulated England as designed after a text by Henry Ford.

Molly – congratulations, you have just illustrated at least one of Owen’s points.

63. Shane O'Connor

Here’s some advice for any discerning, self-respecting human being – How about you stop allowing yourselves to be balkanized against your fellow humans by the pathetic left/right paradigm. Idealists, whether they are on the left or the right, overwhelmingly have no respect for other people’s choices and seek to impose their worldview on all others. Socialists and Marxists have always sought to replace a tyranny they don’t like, with one they do like. Freedom is anathema to them.

Political Correctness is a paradox, or perhaps what George Orwell would have described as “Doublethink”. If you are trying to force others to be “tolerant”, then you yourself are failing to be tolerant by engaging in coercion.

Neither liberals or conservatives offer any real solutions, they only complicate matters. What we really need is a fair and just monetary system, which we could bring about by taking the power of the issuance of currency out of the hands of central banks and into the hands of a proper elected institution. We also need a fair judiciary, in other words put a stop to the adminstrative/Corpus Juris system and reinstate Habeus Corpus and Common Law.

Until we establish those basic pillars of a sane and decent society, I’m not interested in superficial political “solutions” from the “left” or “right”.

Human race get off your knees – start thinking outside the box, whatever box you’re in.

64. Charlieman

@63. Shane O’Connor: “Here’s some advice for any discerning, self-respecting human being…”

Bugger it, that excludes me.

“How about you stop allowing yourselves to be balkanized against your fellow humans by the pathetic left/right paradigm.”

As long as you learn the meaning of balkanisation?

“Political Correctness is a paradox…”

No, it is politeness. Political Correctness amounts to Manners.

“What we really need is a fair and just monetary system, which we could bring about by taking the power of the issuance of currency out of the hands of central banks and into the hands of a proper elected institution.”

That is almost as incoherent as my typing at this time of night. And in the UK, the nation of barbaric illiberalism, many communities trade using independent currencies.

@63
“Socialists and Marxists have always sought to replace a tyranny they don’t like, with one they do like. Freedom is anathema to them”

“Always”? You know nothing about socialism and I suspect that you take your view of socialism from the state bureaucracies of Eastern Europe. More fool you. As the SI graffiti of 1968 said said “Socialism without freedom is a barracks”.

“Political Correctness is a paradox, or perhaps what George Orwell would have described as “Doublethink”. If you are trying to force others to be “tolerant”, then you yourself are failing to be tolerant by engaging in coercion”

This is one of the biggest myths spread by the right. Political correctness has now become a pejorative; it’s a way of dismissing tolerance and respect. It’s a way of pushing back the hands of time when it was acceptable to call a spade a n*gger.

“Human race get off your knees – start thinking outside the box, whatever box you’re in”

Your post tells me that you’re in the box and you’re comfortable there.

66. Shane O'Connor

@64. Charlieman:

“Bugger it, that excludes me.”

You could have just left it there mate. In fact, I don’t know what the hell I was doing appealing to anyone with self-respect and discernment on a site dedicated to the Church of Socialism. Now that I think about it, its a bit like going onto a pro Sharia Law website and trying to find anyone with respect for women or gay people.. What was I thinking?

I’m late to the party as I’ve only just seen this.

Some good points but is

“Get some non-lefty friends”

for real!?

Do you actually choose your friends or only make friends with lefty people in the first place? Do you need to make a conscious decision to do this?!

Friends come into people’s lives from such a diverse range of places. They will surely all have a different range of political thoughts.

The idea that this needs instruction is completely alien to me. I don’t doubt it is definitely important advice for some of the people I know! But it’s astonishing, really, that there are people who would only ever come into contact with lefties and make friends with lefties.

Also, you forgot an important one. Listen.

Actually listen to what people are saying and don’t presume “left” is ALWAYS correct and “right” is ALWAYS incorrect. Do not presume to have the moral highground automatically. You (by which I mean “the left” not you, Owen) very likely don’t. Especially if you are in any way affiliated with the Labour party.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Why Lefties need to change our language http://bit.ly/fL3LCI

  2. The Dragon Fairy

    RT @libcon: Why Lefties need to change our language http://bit.ly/fL3LCI

  3. Don Paskini

    RT @libcon: Why Lefties need to change our language http://bit.ly/fL3LCI

  4. MUSHKUSH

    RT: @libcon: Why Lefties need to change our language http://bit.ly/fL3LCI

  5. Spir.Sotiropoulou

    Why Lefties need to change our language | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/KSI69KU via @libcon

  6. Paul Simpson

    RT @libcon: Why Lefties need to change our language http://bit.ly/fL3LCI

  7. Bern O'Donoghue

    RT @libcon: Why Lefties need to change our language http://bit.ly/fL3LCI

  8. Danny James

    RT @libcon: Why Lefties need to change our language http://bit.ly/fL3LCI

  9. Murray

    Interesting piece on @libcon on how the left can (and urgent needs to) improve the way it communicates. http://bit.ly/fL3LCI

  10. fabiengoa

    RT @libcon: Why Lefties need to change our language http://bit.ly/fL3LCI

  11. Tim Hunt

    RT @libcon: Why Lefties need to change our language http://bit.ly/fL3LCI

  12. Stephen Lintott

    Why Lefties need to change our language http://tinyurl.com/66n2vy3

  13. The Dragon Fairy

    “@Slintottuk: Why Lefties need to change our language http://tinyurl.com/66n2vy3” *Puffles nods* #toomanysyllables

  14. Hannah M

    Why Lefties need to change our language | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/7uKTnsq via @libcon

  15. Sarah Jackson

    YES. RT @boudledidge: Why Lefties need to change our language | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/7uKTnsq via @libcon

  16. Broken OfBritain

    RT @Puffles2010: “@Slintottuk: Why Lefties need to change our language http://tinyurl.com/66n2vy3” *Puffles nods* #toomanysyllables

  17. Stuart White

    Great article by Owen Jones on the left and language – let's get Orwellian (in a good way!) http://t.co/Oi3VWlk via @libcon

  18. Jackie

    RT @libcon: Why Lefties need to change our language http://bit.ly/fL3LCI

  19. Rachel Hubbard

    Why Lefties need to change our language | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/xmNDVn9 via @libcon

  20. American Liberal

    The salient piece in the prior Twitter was penned by @OwenJones84. His article was also cross-posted on @LibCon: http://bit.ly/gL07BE #P2

  21. American Liberal

    The salient piece in the prior tweet was penned by @OwenJones84. His article was also cross-posted on @LibCon: http://bit.ly/gL07BE #P2

  22. Soph

    In response to @OwenJones84's piece here: http://bit.ly/gL07BE I'm gonna say, I've always found far-leftists pretentious ideological twats.

  23. Soph

    In response to @OwenJones84's piece here: http://bit.ly/gL07BE I'm gonna say, I've always found far-leftists pretentious idealistic twats.

  24. Lacey

    RT @sophwarnes: In response to @OwenJones84's piece here: http://bit.ly/gL07BE I'm gonna say, I've always found far-leftists pretentious …

  25. Paul Bowler

    RT @sophwarnes: In response to @OwenJones84's piece here: http://bit.ly/gL07BE I'm gonna say, I've always found far-leftists pretentious …

  26. Helen Thomas

    Why Lefties need to change our language | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/rbfgN7l via @libcon

  27. J

    RT @libcon: Why Lefties need to change our language http://bit.ly/fL3LCI

  28. Ceehaitch

    RT @Hellsbells265: Why Lefties need to change our language | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/rbfgN7l via @libcon

  29. Kay Gee (initially)

    RT @libcon @owenjones84 : Why Lefties need to change language http://bit.ly/fL3LCI

  30. SSP Campsie

    @OwenJones84 RT Why Lefties need to change our language Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/rbfgN7l via @libcon <good article.

  31. Link Loving 12.02.11 « Casper ter Kuile

    […] Owen Jones has some remarkably insightful ideas on how the left needs to change it’s language. Let’s start by never, ever again saying oil companies are ‘exploring’ for oil. They are depleting/extracting/emptying. […]

  32. >>Nostalgia For Infinity - Linkfest: February 7th – February 13th

    […] Why Lefties need to change our language | Liberal Conspiracy – 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 setup. 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. Tags: leftism pr image communication presentation engagement […]

  33. sous pression

    Must read for fellow lefties: 'why lefties need to change our language'. Can't agree more: http://t.co/XMEUZtY #leftist #socialism #unions

  34. Ertha Downey

    Why Lefties need to change our language | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/SlrtT4a

  35. markbrownlie

    http://t.co/A3WAdq6 H/T Mathieu #TOpoli

  36. Aidan Rowe

    "Hey I'm @OwenJones84 I'm from the radical left check out my post on this liberal website for liberals" http://t.co/r9v53YUI

  37. How to be a nicer left winger : 12 tips for social activists « LotsToBeDone.com

    […] mate ‘Cllr. Chris’ posted a link on my Facebook wall to an article on the blog Liberal Conspiracy by Owen Jones which I thought was good. Here’s a shortened version of it . Some tips for […]





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