We need wins, not losses

Monday, 2nd December 2013 at 6:00 UTC Leave a comment

The Left has some pretty strange ideas, but amongst them is the idea that defining something as a loss is somehow a virtue. We make a virtue out of losing. We take time to explain why we haven’t won, and have in fact lost. I hear entire speeches dedicated to explaining why victories were defeats. Please folks, for the love of getting anywhere what so ever, STOP!

I heard a speech at a West Yorkshire People’s Assembly event not long ago, given by a woman from a very minor Socialist organisation, in which she detailed every single victory in the last six months and explained why it was, in fact, a defeat. I think this was meant to motivate us, or convince us of something, but mostly it raised two responses: people heckled her and people just plain switched off. A few got up and left. The bizarre bit wasn’t the fact she was telling us about defeats – some of the victories in question were either overstated or have been overturned – but the glee with which she did it.

This is quite an extreme example of an all-to-common incidence. How many of us have not heard someone explaining away a claimed-victory as a defeat? Very few, I would suggest. Perhaps some of it is over-optimism in our aims, or a failure to grasp that negotiation means setting the bar high and extracting compromises. Take the strategy of ‘anchoring’; an extreme policy is proposed by those on the flanks and followed up by a more moderate version a few weeks later by those who then impose it on a population quite relieved that the policy isn’t like the one strategically suggested earlier. Can the Left manage it? Nope.

To one extent, I think it lets people off the hook – either defeat was inevitable or the outcomes weren’t worth fighting for, so we didn’t get involved. Its so much easier to snipe from the side-lines and stick to the comfort that purity delivers, instead of rolling up our sleeves and potentially getting messy. To another extent, some things that get announced as victories have unintended consequences, often on the marginal, and often to the extent that those looking for defeats to highlight can find them.

However, I think it has a lot to do with the Left’s tendency to focus on strategies rather than outcomes. To acknowledge another group’s victory would be to suggest that their strategy is valid. Yet many of the diverse groups on the left delineate themselves on strategy, not issues, and some seem to be more keen on building the means than the ends. This creates a very nauseating and vicious cycle of groups making claims about victories belonging to different people, when they belong to all of us, or expending hours pointless hours trying to argue if X or Y delivered a victory that was clearly a combination of both. No strategy can be an absolute, unless inflicted by a sufficiently brutal dictatorship.

We set out to prove, not the validity of our demands, but the validity of the process of achieving them. People with specific skillsets are told to stop wasting their time and do what the speaker would have done with his specific skillset. Groups end up with stunted development, because the parts of the group that could have fulfilled certain roles are asphyxiated of resources, of space to develop, and ultimately of praise.

We rely on the failure of those around us, rather than their success. This means that when we in turn have any success whatsoever, we can’t accept constructive criticism, because we go on the defensive. If we were a bit more grown up, and owned our successes, we’d be able to pass on what we learnt, both for improving on the good, and changing the less good.

Whatever the merits of any of this, it doesn’t work. It just sows disillusionment. We allow others to define our efforts as unsuccessful, and to pretend it doesn’t matter anyway. We wonder why people burn out or become bitter. Actually, we make a virtue of bitterness. Instead of saying ‘we’ll be back for more’ and going off to celebrate, we demotivate everyone in the hopes that they’ll concede our method would have been more successful.

So, please, lets claim our victories boldly and not be afraid to celebrate victories within the wider movement. Success breeds success. Our movement needs all its components in order to be effective – in fact, its going to have to add a few more along the way. But this year, we’ve seen some victories, some signs that we are managing to be effective. Lets stop getting ourselves down.


This post is dedicated to the 3Cosas campaign, which won two of its three demands last week, and is therefore a massive success, and deserve the praise of everyone on the Left, without reference to strategy or analysis.


Entry filed under: Activism.

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