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The speech a leftist political leader should give

3 min

On the tactical mistakes that are killing progressive politics.

Left-wing politics in Europe is at a dead-end.

In future posts, I'll be sharing some thinking on tactics for political campaigns. Specifically, on how anti-establishment, leftwing parties could win in our current political climate. (Update 04/12/23: here’s one such post.)

But for those parties to have a shot, it's important that they acknowledge the mistakes that led to this point. To avoid repeating them.

As I've discussed often on this blog, these mistakes are largely organisational and tactical, not political. And at their root are the same issues that ail progressive activist groups, think-tanks and NGOs.

It's the classic problem of the left. (And a solvable one.)

So that's what this piece is about. It's framed as a speech given by a hypothetical leftist leader in Europe, to their organisation's members and allies.

Dear friends,

I'll cut to the chase: We messed up.

The cost of living is soaring. The establishment is keeping down wages to protect the profits of the rich. And our planet is on the brink of both climate collapse and nuclear war.

If there ever was a moment for leftist politics to seize the day, this should be it.

And yet — we’re weaker than ever. There’s not a single left-wing government in Europe. Progressive forces are scattered, underfunded, and bickering between themselves. We're not just out of power; we're irrelevant.

So, what went wrong? A litany of tactical and organisational failures. Let me try to explain.

Alexis Tsipras, addressing a crowd at a campaign rally in Athens in 2012. The leader of a leftist project that went wrong. (Photo by me)

* * *

First, we messed up because we lost touch with our foundational supporters — the working class and unions. We became an intellectual echo chamber, disconnected from the struggles of everyday people. We communicated with jargon and academic rhetoric.

Essentially, we were talking to ourselves… without realising it.

And in doing so, we pushed away the very people we aimed to represent.

* * *

We messed up because we mistook moral indignation for moral clarity. We alienated working people who may have shared our analysis but chose different solutions. We labelled them instead of engaging with them.

By doing this, we found ourselves speaking to an ever-shrinking audience.

* * *

We messed up because we prioritised being right over winning. Yes, it’s good that we stuck to our principles. But we failed to comprehend that without power, our ‘rightness’ is a hollow victory.

And so, we got bogged down in internal and intra-left discussions... when we needed to be nimble and reactive.

We obsessed over the language we were using, in a futile bid to be ‘correct’… at the expense of meaningful action.

We concentrated on our proposals, on our pet ideas... instead of addressing voters’ concerns.

And while we were busy in debates and policy work and semantics? Our opponents were strategising, acting, and gaining power.

* * *

We messed up because we let the establishment fracture us and weaken us. Instead of denouncing their tactics for what they were — smear campaigns — we played into their hands, censoring ourselves out of fear, and hoping it would pass.

* * *

We messed up because we got our solutions back to front. We talked about social justice and tackling systemic inequality. But we can't make society fair unless everyone can afford not just to survive, but to live — with a good home, enough to eat, healthcare they can count on, and an education that prepares them for the future.

That's where our focus should have been. On trying to deliver that promise to our supporters.

* * *

And we messed up because we blamed these mistakes on everyone else. On the far-right, the establishment, legacy media, global finance, the Davos set. Anyone and everyone but ourselves.

* * *

Well, enough is enough.

Tonight marks a departure from this trajectory of failures. We’re hitting the reset button.

Our future starts now. We’ve learned our lessons. And we won’t mess this up again.

Thank you.

Moonrise in Paleochora, Crete, two weeks ago. (Photo by me)


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