Social Revolution Party

"Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways: The point, however, is to change it."

Meeting the Masses Where They’re At (Without Resorting to Liberalism)

Posted by sorev on 14/01/2010

Meeting the Masses Where They’re At

(Without Resorting to Liberalism)

By Peter Clarke

As communists seeking to build a movement and party capable of overthrowing capitalism, our immediate task is to start building a base amoung working people. In our current context, this can be slow work, but it has to be done one person at a time. The question, though, is how this is to be done. How do you turn someone into a communist?

We know the old strategy of standing on a corner hocking newspapers is bankrupt. There are enough groups doing that already, and if that were the way forward, the revolution would already have happened. The reality is that it isn’t 1917 anymore, and our base has to be built on the personal relationships we build in a sea of atomization. To boot, false consciousness is a lot more well-developed and pervasive, so a one-off interaction with revolutionary proletarian ideas isn’t going to make much of a dent, even in one person. So, again to the original question: how do you turn someone into a communist?

In general, it seems like the path toward becoming a communist follows a few steps: discontent, recognition of communism’s desirability, and recognition of its possibility. The first step is an easier sell these days. A simple conversation that begins around any given failure of capitalism (unemployment, tuition, war, falling wages, massive state and personal debt, shitty working conditions, etc.) and connects those issues to their root cause (including a short but thoughtful dismissal of social democracy) should take care of this. During this first stage, it is important to exchange personal stories about the issues at hand. Remember: these are not details that muddy up the theory, they’re the reason why a person will decide to fight. They humanise both of you, validate your experiences, and give a person the confidence to believe that what they think is worth acting upon.

The next step, getting somebody to recognize the desirability of a society without classes or the state, is relatively easy these days too. Point out the superabundance that exists (in food, electronics, etc.) and how much more free and comfortable we’d all be without a parasitic ruling class sucking us dry. Often here you’ll run into an objection based on a lie or exaggeration about the USSR or China (namely, how poor and starving everyone supposedly was in those places) and it’s useful to point out the differences in development between ‘there’ and ‘here’, but more importantly, that nobody called those societies ‘communist’ aside from the US State Department. That, while the goal of those societies may have been similar, our proposed approach is structurally different and would not allow for “seizure of power by a single person”. The bulk of this phase, though, should be shedding light on the good of our proposals rather than responding to the failures of others. Tap into peoples’ desire to be productive but not to be alienated, to develop use value but not exchange value, to see leadership rather than rulership. In short, take nothing for granted in explaining why the world we want to see would be a far better one than the one we live in now.

The last stage, having people realize not just how desirable, but how possible a communist society is, tends to be a little trickier. People are generally uninterested in what happened in 1871 or 1917 or 1936 or 1968. It feels detached and irrelevant to the world they exist in. It may be necessary to bring up the fact that all these events happened, but your approach shouldn’t rely on them. Instead, tie the conversation in to things you and your comrade-to-be encounter on a regular basis. School, work, neighbourhoods, sports teams, whatever. Illuminate the social, rather than the market basis of these institutions, and pin everything wrong with them on the bosses, the state, and capitalism. And remember: communism will not be a utopia or panacea. It will be a human society populated with human beings. There will be problems and complications, all surmountable, but present. Being unrealistic in this regard will only make you come off as a lunatic or, at best, naive.

Now that the (very) basic steps in a person’s transformation into a communist has been outlined, here are a few things to keep in mind:

* The working class is not an abstraction, nor something external, nor a homogeneous mass. It is you and me and your neighbour and your classmate and your co-worker.
* Understand the history and causes of the current financial crisis, and why those who say it’s over are blowing smoke.
* Think about your personal story and how convoluted your own path to class consciousness was. Think about what pushed you forward and, if relevant, bring that up.
* Avoid preaching. A conversation is a two-way activity.
* Talk about more than just politics. Nobody wants to become a one-dimensional weirdo and social ties (friendships) are what get us all through the winter.
* There is a gap between a person’s level of consciousness on their own and the level it’s at while discussing with a communist. Try to raise the former in your conversation, keeping in mind that it took you more than two hours to gain solid class consciousness.

Happy organizing!

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