Last night, I came home from one of the most frustrating activist meetings I've ever been to and, yknow, that's really saying something. We couldn't do the hand-gestures because we were in a public place, but it was definitely at that stage of ludicrously unhelpful: voices were lowered threateningly, faces were reddened, and I began to fret that one or more of us would be taken in for posession of anti-capitalist theory with intent to wound. When I got home, my head was full of what holds us back. Since then, I've been drawing up a list of ideas for how the left can move forwards from this position of constant kvetching, infighting and failing to get anything fucking done because of factionism. This will probably added to, so feel free to contribute.
Nine tips for twenty-first century activists
1. This is not a souped-up 60s battle reenactment. Your enemy is never, not ever, the group along from you who happen to disagree with you on one small point of policy, however important you believe that policy is. And if we can't put disagreements aside and focus on larger issues, if we can't play nicely with all the other little activists and anarchists, then we'll all be going to bed without our revolution.
2. On the other hand, this is not Woodstock. We do not all have to get along, hold hands in a circle and think about rainbows in order to work together. That's not what successful politics is about - just take a look at the right wing factions dominating governments all over the world. They hate each other's guts, but it works, because they can all agree on common goals like submerging abortion rights and keeping themselves in power. Internal debate and personal disagreements are part of life, and we need to be mature enough not to get bogged down in flame wars if we're going to take these bastards on. Just because someone across the table from you doesn't agree with your economic analysis/position on sex work/ does not make them your enemy. Not when you have a common enemy to contend with.
3.It ain't about you. No, really. The chances are that if you have the time, energy and personal empowerment to join a political or activist group, that's great, but it means that it isn't about you any more. The people on whose behalf you are planning action and getting organised, those people come first, and their needs and wants come before your personal political qualia. Your politics, your individual, most deeply held political and spiritual beliefs, are supremely important - to you - and you can discuss and debate them in groups or in private as much as you want. But as soon as you let personal ideological quibbles counteract the progress of positive action, you're doing it wrong.
4. If anyone at all starts advocating physical violence, intimidation or bullying, it's time for them to leave your group. If anyone starts advocating racism, sexism, homophobia or intolerance as constructive strategies, it's time for them to leave your group, and it's time for you to warn the next group along from you of their motives.
5. If your strategy for achieving social justice won't work until every single mechanism of capitalist society is dismantled from the ground up, then it's time to start work on a back-up plan. Plan A (world socialist revolution) is absolutely fantastic, as long as there's also a Plan B in play for the meantime.
6. Listen. Please, listen. Listen to everything everyone has to say, not just people in your approximate camp, but everyone with something to say on your issue, even if they're a frothing fascist throwback. Don't just wait for your turn to shout. Listen, and then when it's your turn to be listened to, start talking *to* people, not at them. This is the only way we're going to be able to build the bridges that we desperately need to build to keep radical left politics alive.
7. Stop mistrusting and start recruiting! Don't write off 90% of people you meet as inherently unreceptive to your politics - get out there and start talking about what you do and why you do it (point 6 will prove very useful to you here). In our separate factions, we are very small and very powerless - but by building bridges between activism and everyday life, by reaching out to anyone and everyone we touch, by forming the debate rather than just guarding our own small corner of it, the possibilities are limitless.
8. London isn't everywhere - it just feels like it. Even past the end of the central line, social injustice happens. (As you may have guessed, this is the one I personally have most trouble with).
9. Watch this, and when you think you've understood it, watch it again, and remember that it was made in the 1970s, and ask yourself how long it's going to be until we pull our bloody socks up.