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Words Matter


When it comes to initiating a campaign or building a movement, It is my contention that much of the battle is , in fact, linguistic. We know how mainstream politicians are told to "stay on message" and how popular political strategists such as George Lakoff advise "control the framing". While most of their prescriptions are liberal nonsense, I believe that even at the basic level of choosing which words we use, consistency and repetition are in fact necessary. This might run counter to a certain strain of anarchist thought but we live in the world we inhabit, not the one we desire. We can model the "new" in the shell of the old but the struggle takes place on THEIR turf.

We know that Parecon theory is effective because it stresses easily understandable (universal) values for which there exists a great deal of consensus around definition and meaning. This is an aspect of the hegemony around which Antonio Gramsci contributed such valuable theory and around which Mouffe and Laclau also develop their "socialist strategy".

To this end then we as a social/economic movement need to consider the contest over such key terms as democracy, politics, government, the state and society, to name just a few. The right-wing/ libertarian tactic is to link the Leftist conotation of each of these terms with totalitarianism, both historical and theoretical. They are effective ( to the degree they are) in this effort because they have gained a normative, or hegemonic position linguistically through the use of culture, institutions and a formal, hollow discourse that serves the status quo. Consider the term politics. In a capitalist system we ( on the Left-left) are used to having to put scare quotes around the word each time we refer to it’s present state. Politics as we currently know them are empty, sordid bourgeois affairs, constricted in their aim ( transfer of wealth, holding on to power ,etc) andbreadth. The same holds true for the other such appropriated terms I mentioned. Their meaning has been kidnapped and raped and the world, transfixed by a twisted hostage mentality, now identifies with it’s captors and their lies.

A way forward then should include re-claiming the meaning and definition of these terms by adding a simple prefix – capitalist. In each and every conversation, article, speech or communication we need to specify CAPITALIST democracy from the democracy free of class. We need to specify CAPITALIST politics from an authentic politics which would be pluralist and egalitarian. We need to specify, in each instance, CAPITALIST government from the process of decision making and enforcement equals would use among themselves. The same holds trus for terms like "state" or "society" or any other relation which has been co-opted and debased by class relations and the hegemonic structure which they engender.

This requires discipline, a tough order on the Left, I realize. But if we just adopted this new language in a rigorous fashion and insisted on it, articulated it when challenged and perpetuated its use from here to the end of our struggle it coud be an important tool in de-programming a culture which has been traumitized for far too long.

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