I first came across the Novara Media website when it carried an article about the recent People’s Assembly demo in London. The account was so different to my experience of the day that as I read, I wondered whether the author had actually been on the same demo as I had. As it turned out, he hadn’t.
Checking out the website the other day, I saw some podcasts, one of which was called ‘What happened to the anti-austerity movement?’ As an activist in the movement these kind of conversations interest me, so I decided to give it a listen.
The first thing to say is that the two presenters Aaron and James are clearly two very articulate, intelligent and sincere individuals and it was a thoughtful discussion. But what really stood out was the way in which the conversation provided one of the best examples I’ve ever come across of how a total inability to talk in ordinary language still plagues the left. To give a flavour of the kind of spiel that was used in the course of the show, we had terms and expressions such as: ‘ontology’, ‘socio-economic’, ‘negation’, ‘diffusion of the meme’, ‘protest repertoire’, ‘performativity’, ‘political discursive’, ‘axis’, ‘policy solutions’, ‘flaky horizontalism’, ‘group reproduction’, ‘subscriber base’, ‘existential threat to the rule of capitalism’, ‘formally oppositional’, ‘substitionalism’, ‘media ecology’, ‘revolutionary puritanism’ and so on.
The big problem here is that if you think that society can only changed by collective struggle involving large numbers of people then why would you want to communicate in a way that can only be understood by people who’ve done a degree in sociology?
Of course, I’m not saying that theory should be done away with altogether. I’m simply saying that we all must grasp the very simple but crucial point that if you want to win people to socialist ideas or explain what you think activists should be doing to oppose austerity, you have to talk in a way which doesn’t instantly alienate and exclude most working class people. If we’re unwilling or unable to do that then don’t be surprised if our efforts aren’t met with the kind of success we want.