By Bill Walther, Lewisham Deptford CLP and Lewisham Momentum
At the moment the political direction of Momentum is uncertain which may demoralize or disorientate some comrades. What is clear, however, is the urgent need to be able to explain exactly how a serious Labour government could radically improve people’s lives. Communicating a message that is clear, ‘makes sense’ and can get through to millions of people is the urgent challenge of 2017 in the light of a possible general election.
Momentum members need to work out an exciting, radical narrative to challenge the austerity and immigration lies told so convincingly by the right, so that we can equip thousands of members to become activists, able and willing to campaign for real change. We need to do this because the establishment of the Labour Party will not. Working class politics needs to be put at the centre of our agenda so that our message makes explicit who the real enemy is.
Under Ed Balls the Labour Party talked about austerity-light, thus positioning ourselves within the frame of the right-wing class offensive against us by using their language, their political choices – not ours. Talking from within your opponent’s world framework simply reinforces that framework. Equally, talking from a detail-heavy ‘policy wonk’ framework as the Labour centre and right typically do, does not cut through because most people think about politics in fundamentally emotional and moral ways first and in terms of detailed policies (if at all) second. All of this has been well documented in the work of George Lakoff, a cognitive scientist whose most useful publication is his book Don’t think of an elephant.
In that book, Lakoff explains why it is that conservatives have a much easier time communicating their beliefs as they are able to tap into gut feelings based around a strict father figure mental model that is able to make sense of the world (and of politics) based on deep emotional, almost instinctive reactions that support authority and punishment in its many forms. What he calls ‘progressive thought’ (and really means socialism), is based on a different mental web of gut reactions and emotional empathy around a nurturing family model that emphasizes respect, dignity, nurturing, decency, equality between family members – all of which is transferred (largely unconsciously and automatically) to social issues and political choices in terms of fundamental solidarity and decency between human beings.
The key question is: how do we break through ‘the muck of ages’ (Marx) and the layers of alienation and undeveloped consciousness manufactured daily by the capitalist system? How do we break through to attack the real enemies -‘the billionaire class’ – unchained and unrestained during the last thirty years of neoliberalism in ways that connect with real popular anger?
This needs to be the topic of discussion, reading groups and workshops within Momentum so that we can support each other and make use of what historical struggle can teach us from the battles of the past. I would urge people to make this a priority now. Armed with a new, tough popular and persuasive narrative about the type of society we want and how radical local agitation can help achieve it, we can get out onto the streets and campaign for real change.
This may be obvious to some comrades but for thousands more it is an urgent educational task that will engage new members. We all have a duty to make it happen so that we are building not just for the present moment but also for the longer future of the left. We can give our members the confidence to do it themselves and not wait for permission, as Tony Benn used to say.
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