For centuries, socialists in capitalist societies struggled with an important yet seldom formalized issue: they had trouble communicating with those they wanted the most to help.
They had arguments, powerful analyses, they could even be right! But they were not convincing. At least not enough to mobilize the masses those analyses were made to defend.
When those studying Marx and other anti-capitalist authors and ideologies went to talk to their audience, they faced resistance and incomprehension. People could understand their masters, but not those who wanted them free.
It is hard to imagine a situation more frustrating than this one. The socialists would finally say: they just don’t understand, we tell them they belong to the working class, but they don’t even know!
Their symbols were threatening to the masses, they associated them with the worst illustrations history had provided. Words weren’t enough, people’s relative deprivation wasn’t enough, something seemed to be enough to wake them up.
The power to influence the masses was in the hands of the capitalists, they could speak to them to turn them into their largest allies.
Most people were against capitalism, but they didn’t know it. It was obvious that common sense was different than what the socialists believed to be right.
This mutual incomprehension was what the enemy wanted. They wanted the socialists to be small, speaking a language no one understood, minorities, hidden behind their old symbols. This way, they were clearly no danger to the system.
Pablo Iglesias, from the Podemos movement in Spain, understood this. He understood that truth didn’t matter, what mattered was finding a way to connect with people, communicate with them in terms they would immediately understand and identity with.
He wasn’t the first person to have understood that. One man has managed to rise the masses at the time of the Soviet war. He didn’t talk to peasants about social classes or dialectic materialism, he just said “bread and peace”. That was what people really needed.
At the beginning of the 21st century, this new enlightenment started to spread among the socialists. Therefore, they learned. Their vision of a post-capitalist society was intact, but they changed the words to describe it. They trained, they practiced this new language that was lacking theoretical complexity, but that was universal in the sense that it could reach anyone’s clearer needs.
It wasn’t necessary to explain that capitalism wasn’t in the 99%’s best interest, that Western democracies were illusions, that’s not what people needed to hear. This new approach of communicating allowed socialists to merge with those they wanted to convince. Theory wasn’t separating them anymore. This created a sense of unity and common interest among the larger population. A real movement began: the billions against the billionaires.
People throughout the world have integrated the two most basic socialist notions: Giving and sharing. Since socialism became globalized, everyone’s well-being has increased and people now have the time and energy to go back to the theories of why socialism is important, and why capitalism can never be installed again. Therefore, the socialist rhetoric isn’t just spilled out out of thoughtless propaganda, people understand our system and can see how it is benefiting society as a whole.
There are still some disagreements of course, as no one can wish for a society where everyone agrees on everything and everyone thinks alike. But today, people communicate with honesty because no one as any particular privilege that would advantage them in a discussion. People’s capacities still vary, but as decisions are made collectively, those differences are levelled out and discussion becomes the only way to make things move forward. In the last century, we have learned to create methods to always go back to what is essential, caring about others, leaving no one is a condition of necessity. From that common ground, it is easier to communicate and in the end, no one is left out. Communication is key and it has to be honest and relying on common interests, not empty ideologies.
Fred's comment: Bhaskar Sunkara, publisher of Jacobin, posted on his Facebook page about how Bernie Sanders creates slogans that resonate with people: just pick some social good, put “free” front and “for all” at the end and voila - Free healthcare for all! Free education for all! Free childcare for all! Etc.
Richard: Stop leftists to use the phrase dictatorship of proletariat. Which Marx was not using. Opened up an easy way to attack socialism as a form of dictatorship. The problem also of power. Most of the left divided in small parties, or as with Podemos big enough parties, but they are all there for power. Socialism is sth that is imposed on people from outside. This is in their best interest, why don't they follow us. Arrogant attitude of intellectuals is very negative and people sense it. WE have to be in the movemnt and part of the movement. Some of formulas that you are in favor actually came from the movement itself. The Occupy came up themselves with 99%. If they accomplished anything, is that they changed the conversation and B Sanders just took up things already invented and used by the people. So in France, the left was so divided. Melanchon is not exactly socialist - he is a powermonger. Maybe in How stories we need to invent few things or maybe tell the story of Occupy as they reinvented the language of the left. Others? Jenny: Studies - what happens when people integrate with other people. Small among increases violence and a sufficient amount decreases it. So how do we go out and connect to people who don't look like us? R: How can we refocus the narrative, showing on one hand how these parties fail and how spontaneous slogans from 2011 - although they apparently failed, changed the conversation.
Lola: Change has to come from the base. We do have to change the language just to communicate with people and not tell them what they need. To create conversations among the left and people.
Fred: How does a breakthrough come about? We have a lot of practices that have been attempted throughout last centrury- vanguard party, socialisme and barbarie, Dunayevskaya's appreciation for spontaneity, social democracy to change the system from within. And yet those were not successful. Ideas that we keep coming up with have been already tried and practiced - but w/o success. So how one or combinations of these actually win.
Sam: Failures of some of the recent attempts to change - efforts in Argentina, Arab Spring, Ukraine etc. Obviously they did many things they mobilized people. But they were unable to have much effect afterwards. capital and organized parties dominated the setting up of new governments and I wish people consciously tried to set up councils as counterpower , who are in touch with lots of people, in part. with neighborhood folks and activists. A council system to reorganize society. That raises questions how to create a We for these conversations. We need to think about who the We is. R: I agree with everything. What needs to happen is simple - Fred's analysis of all attempts that have been made goes in Then and How. Use topic sentence: “Many attempts were made and consequences: How movemenets put out all these ideas. Unfortunately, their efforts were deviated, but they left an important residue. But it was remembered, just like the idea of soviets was remembered in Hungary in 1956, when they revived the soviets.” F: Disaster communism in Extreme Cities. How Occupy activists who have been dispersed came together to organize Occupy Sandy, grassroots comittees - sounded like setting up councils out of local groups, individuals. Had its limitations of course, but another moment as a glimpse of how things could be in the future.
J: some of those folks are now in Puerto Rico: they experimented with solar panels and bringing it to PR now as well.
L: Helps people realize how much power they have. Realizing between ourselves just how much power we have.
J: Asset based approached to development of communities. Coming to communities and assessing what assets exist - bodegas, grandmas association.
F: Seeing like a State: counterposes top down authoritarian models to the notion of local knowledge (figure of Ullysses , the crafty man who knew how to get things done).
R: Advantage of the age of internet - networks that have been developed are still there. They grow - they don't disappear. The seed under the snow. Who are the we? we are participants in the struggle, we are part of the memorey of the struggle, we can generalize, observe and bring back to people how they empowered themselves. We can present future potential back to them.
F: how does this we translates into a network of actors in a broader struggle? To do it w/o becoming a vanguard party. while bringing all positive aspects that the vang party achieved without negative aspects. Those who have memory of the struggle, how things worked in the past - to bring it to today's activists without imposing anything on them.
Jason: how not to become authoritarian. rank and file control - how to increase that. there is no formula to make sure that we will never fuck up again. We just need to do our best.
Jenny: i don't see anything of this happening without violence. we are on the edge of the precipice and need to get a lot lower before the we gets bigger. living a middle class life - they still don't have any incentive to give it up. The tax bill - will take it to the limit, to kill as many of us as possible. The black lives matter folks - the phrase so profound in its simplicity - we know how it upset right wing folks that leads to violence on the streets.
R: Violence is inevitable. Capitalism's dying like a slayed dragon with his tail knocking down eth. I insist that from our point of view, armed struggle is a loosing strategy. self defense under certina circumstances is necessary. but the hightech weapons of mass destructions, guerilla war of any kind is a suicidal tactique. I am sympathetique to theories of swarming: insects overcome their antagonists by swarming them. Soldiers on the field hide behind the bodies fo their fallen comrades. And yes, half of us is going to die. But the other half lives and the price of labor goes up - instead of an unemployed army - we'll have conditions like those in the end of Middle ages. It took a lot of effort to wipe out the yeomen's advantages.
Imagine people swarming pharma companies: workers occupy them and people surround them. they do away with intellectual property. we set up plants locallly that produce and sell for costs or for free. a way to destroy the monopoly of capitalism.
F: people swarming high rises that are empty in NYC.
R: describe it and give people the idea.
R: The power of narrative : Sam's poetry.
Let's keep putting the stuff up in the formula Then How Now and later we will make it a coherent whole - but not too unified not to become those sectarian left sects. Let's have many visions of a different world. It will be more inspiring the less it is narrow and factional.
My next thought: we need to reach out to other people. We have the about Us section and I hope that over this break we can send it out - but by a real message to people whom we know, who would be sympathetic and invite them to join in. It is doable.
F: I thought it is easy to write THEN and relatively easy to write the NOW. the real challenge is to write the HOW. I can imagine taking Sam's poems line by line and elaborating on them. Moving away from NYC and imagining how it happneed in other regions of the world: Paris, Latin America.
R: All the different categories: we will focalize how it all happen in all of these areas and hopefully to get people from those areas, e.g. North Africa, to internationalize it.