Left Luggage

The socialist strategy site

Community engagement I: playing the long game

Posted by Left Luggage on July 29, 2009

As our post yesterday examining the most recent and prospective developments with the No2EU initiative argued, the bulk of the Left seems intent on forever chasing electoral cycles in hastily-formed platforms rather than engagning in the hard-work of building self-organisation in working class communities.

It’s a curious strategy considering how ineffective it has shown itself to be in lifting the Left from the margins politically or bridging the gulf with the vast majority of working class people. Yet it is still pursued. The reasons for this failure to take questions of strategy seriously are not immediately obvious, but there seems to be a fundamental distinction between those who view political work as a matter of “intervening” and those who view “building” as the key task. This is something we hope to explore in another post soon.

One thing that’s clear is that “building” takes as it starting point what has been described as “the politics of everyday life”: political work that does not necessarily take on an explicitly political form, but is interested in winning trust, building political culture, community, and organisation. In other words, tasks that are totally appropriate for a defensive posture that recognises the current state of play. This is long, hard work. But we on Left Luggage have argued consistently that it is the only way forward. A comment on yesterday’s post summed this up well, arguing that to build working class politics it is really only “the long game or nothing”:

the left might accept that you cannot parachute into working class areas and expect instant credibility, particularly if the comrades you are sending in are people who have actually don’t have a clue about life in these areas.

Perfectly timed for this discussion is news of the Independent Working Class Association’s under-12s football tournament held in Oxford. The event sounds like a fantastic day, with about 250 people turning up including coaches from Swansea and London. It is just one of many forms of community engagement the IWCA has initiated in the city:

The IWCA in Oxford has, in its short history, managed to organise events such as a Saturday morning Children’s Cinema Club, a SATs booster course for school children and numerous community away-days — on top of it’s many political activities.

The article also points out that even until quite recently the Labour Party itself had established social and cultural links in working class communities:

But even as recently as the mid-1990’s, Labour still had social and cultural links with working class communities in places such as Oxford through it’s Labour social clubs and their affiliated sporting associations.

Such forms of organisation once formed part of the bedrock of the labour movement but they have withered and died in most places. There are important lessons for the Left, which for far too long has eschewed such everyday activity in favour of “interventions” that do nothing to establish deep roots or organisation in working class communities.

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One Response to “Community engagement I: playing the long game”

  1. I couldn’t agree with this more wholeheartedly. The problem, these days, is that genuine activists who are prepared to give of their time in their local area and maintain a political aspect to their work besides are now so rare that an awful lot of work falls on very few individuals. And individuals have jobs and families to deal with. Also, when one is operating alone, speaking from experience, it is so much easier to get disheartened at the initial setbacks, and the inertia and the lack of enthusiasm.

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