Let us not alienate the masses with our rhetoric


#1

This thread was started under the title “Cultural conflict with the former Soviet block”. A few participants mentioned that they see a broader issue with the rhetoric ES currently uses in its program, because it can alienate people and be easily used against ES. Apparently, it causes discomfort not only to people with a background from the former Soviet block, so I am changing the title of thread as to facilitate a more general discussion, as proposed by Jonathan. Martin, on the other hand, is warning us that we should not lose the “bite” in the political discussion and turn into radical centrists who are afraid to have an actual position.
I cannot agree more with Angelo’s statement: “I’m not only anti fascist, I’m also anti totalitarian.”

Below is the original text of this posting.

Cultural conflict with the former Soviet block

ES currently runs the risk of antagonizing potential supporters from the former Soviet block, which makes it less likely to succeed as an EU-wide party. In a nutshell, many formulations in the program are unacceptable for our culture (the way I experience it). We stand behind the values, but the way they are formulated is just too triggering for us. People from the western side of the iron curtain can more easily subscribe to or just simply ignore some “radical left” formulations and look at the big picture, while for us, these are deal-breakers for historical reasons.
My long-term aim here is to try to move the program to more neutral language without questioning the values behind it. Having spent 18 years in Bulgaria, 10 in Germany, and 2 in Missouri, I will do my best to help translate what needs to be said into language that will be equally acceptable for people in Plovdiv and in Orleans.

Let me provide some examples. You write “jobs guarantee”. Why do you go out of your way to sound like our governments in the 80s? No one will say that “jobs for everyone” is something bad per se, but this is literally what our dictatorships used to promise. What I understood from that point was “policies that make sure that jobs go where people are and not the other way around” and this is not a jobs guarantee. We need more cultural awareness here. First, win people’s trust, then if you really want to make sure that really everyone has a job - cool, do it. Does it have to be in the program for the first election?
You write “workers” everywhere. I understand what you mean, but this is 2019, we don’t need to explicitly sound like Marx.

The reasons for our distrust towards this rhetoric are numerous:

  1. Our states were and are bad at doing stuff. If the state decides to do something, it fails. You don’t want help from a state like that. If the state promises “jobs”, we know for a fact that the jobs situation will get worse.
  2. Our governments use rhetoric like that in order to hide their inability to make real reform. We are unable to reform the railway system, so we will just subsidize it with a few billion and tell people we are guaranteeing their jobs. (I am not implying that subsidies for railways are bad, I am criticizing the rhetoric)
  3. We do not see the left influence in the West. We look up to Denmark and Germany, but we do not know that it took a lot of left thought in order to make Denmark what it is. We have been told that Denmark is capitalist, period. We envy the quality of life in Vienna, but we are oblivious for the fact that due to leftist administrations, 62% of apartments in Vienna are subsidized.
  4. The former authoritarian leaders kept most of their money and power. They still use leftist rhetoric. For us, people who sound like ES’s program are lying. We don’t need to listen to them because they are trying to become dictators, even if they are saying nice things. Very much the same way as Western rightist totalitarians, who are promising order and security but what lurches behind is totalitarianism. Same thing, different rhetoric.
  5. The Internet is very US-American, so we observe the discussion within US society (where one side calls itself socialist and the other side is “anti-socialist” and very authoritarian). Since normal people in the East are “anti-Communist”, it is easy for them to go down the rabbit hole and start subscribing to totalitarian statements precisely because they feel that this is the way to be against the totalitarianism that threatens us.

Do you think we can find a way to make ES more welcoming for people from the former Soviet block?

Cheers!


#2

Very interesting analysis, TAfricanski. It is dificult for us to understand the differences of perspective with the peoples of the eastern bloc. To a large extent this is because we in the west have not really established a european identity. Throughout the “cold war” period we were happy to live in the “free world” contentedly consuming colour televisions, motor cars and package holidays whilst watching propaganda clips of people cueing for bread in the east. That is why we are suffering today through out the western nations of a crisis of identity; both national and european. We need the full participation of the eastern peoples to build our common identity but we are not getting much communication from the east. Partially because people have lived through times when open communication was limited, even dangerous and even now is not really encouraged under certain regimes. The danger I see withtrying to systematically use neutral language is that we lose our “bite” in the inevitably conflictual political arena; taking into account that our general stance is one of radical moderatism.
If you feel that you are being shut out by ES may I humbly ask you to put your boots on and kick the door in. Tell us where our proposals sound like lies to you.


#3

Hey

I saw this thread a few days ago and forgot to reply.

Honestly, as a western-European I have to agree with the position that the language European Spring are currently using could easily alienate people, and be used comically against the manifesto.

I went to a recent panel discussion in Berlin (Thursday 17th of January I think) and even there, as I agreed with many positions put forward, and the concepts behind them, I felt pangs of discomfort.

The vocabulary used so often sounds like a Comedy Bolshevik.

I realise that panelists and the community aim to use the most accurate word in any given context. However, we must find vocabulary which doesn’T mimic that used by those who became the Soviet dictators.

It really is the easiest, unconscious weapon against communicating our goals. It is so easy for people to turn-off from the message and/or ridicule it.


#4

Wonderful!
I’m not only anti fascist, I’m also anti totalitarian.
This is not only a problem of language.
I’m sure I’m not in a communist sect, but the desire to use radical language is a problem. We end up borrowing ancient and even wrong terms. For example: not people but workers. I’m not my job, I want a society where people are freed from the necessity of work to eat, I want a job that realizes the person and where the persons are free to change it. I like Universal Citizen Dividend, but I don’t understand how we want a work for all. It’s good, but I want know how, because it sounds communist. And I want a pragmatic program not ideological totalitarian project.
Thanks
Angelo (DiEM25 Italy DSC Bari1)


#5

I would say using the word ‘employee’ instead of ‘worker’ avoids any totalitarian-pseudo-socialist connotations, for example.
It also neatly describes the current socioeconomic relationship of those individuals in the working environment.
We could say ‘wage-slaves’ but that will only speak to a specific demographic.

Luckily, English is a collector-language which has stolen a lot of vocabulary from all around the world.
We have plenty of synonyms to play with which is why we should avoid language that can cause horrific flashbacks in former Stalinist countries, and ridicule in currently capitalist ones.


#6

@TAfricanski,

Is it possible to change the title of this thread to broaden the context of the discussion?

Perhaps to something like “Cultural conflict and mass appeal of Vocabulary” or something?


#7

Done. Not sure this is the right time for such a discussion, but I agree with you.


#8

I’m not only anti fascist, I’m also anti totalitarian. - I should start my conversations like this!
I think you are after a good thing here - if we dig a bit deeper into “how” and “what precisely” we want to achieve, this will automatically make the whole thing less dogmatic and more attractive. Instead of proclaiming how having a job is a human right, we could say for example that when the state spends money, it should not just spend the money in the rich regions, because that’s where companies that win tenders are, but should actually use that money in order to move jobs where people are (and not the other way around). This is not exactly free market, but is a lot easier to subscribe to than “Jobs for all”.


#9

The last thing I want to achieve is to take away the “bite” of ES. Few things are more dangerous than a radical centrist who is just waiting for someone to move the Overton window in some (totalitarian) direction in order to indulge in a very civil… and useless discussion, recognizing that “the center” has moved.


#10

I’m not sure to understand. Do you want say we must move the idea that public opinion has of ES from “radical” (with “less freedom”) to “acceptable” (to move to “popular”)?


#11

Nope, I didn’t write this well. Sorry.
Someone else moves the Overton window (right now - to the far right). This moves the perceived center (right now to the “right”). People who define themselves through their position as a centrist rather than specific values and policies also move to the right. That is what I call “radical centrist” (I think Martin used the term in a different sense) - someone who is so radically for the center that they would accept virtually any position if it is perceived as a compromise between two perceived extremes. Even if one “extreme” is absolutely normal and the other one is objectively crazy (alt-right).
I don’t want to be that someone who gets moved when a motivated minority makes the unthinkable acceptable. That is why I agree with Martin that ES should not give away its “bite” and should not try to sound neutral. To the contrary, it must have a very strong position based on ideas and values.
I would be careful with the term “center”, though, because a centrist is defined by the self-definition of a so-called right and a so-called right and hence is not free to pursue their own agenda and values.


#12

@Jonathan_Richard_R: What do you mean by:

This is a movement of the radical left. Language is a function of underlying Concept(s). Therfore we use the language we use in the END.
There most certainly is a fundamental difference between “worker” and “employee”. Employee covers also Mangers (of all levels) who, especially when in part remunerated in Shares or stock Options, happen to differ fundamentally in Terms of interest from non managerial employees. Also there is a clear difference between being Paid “wages” and receiving a “salary”.

If People do not like our language I am rather sure they do not like our aims, too. Like those eastern european heads of state who could not wait to join EU but refuse majority vote and have no Concept of Solidarity, Human Rights of Refugies and ethnic minorities, Rule of Law etc. (Poland under PIS, Hungary under Orban etc.)

Comradely yours,

GW


#13

Is it? In its program, it describes itself as a movement “united behind a shared vision of Europe as a realm of democracy, sustainability, prosperity, and peace”. “Radical left” has nothing to do with any of these. And it claims to be “Europe’s first transnational party” on its homepage. Which it cannot be with such a language.
I came here to warn you about that conflict. If you want to make an EU party, you have to respect the fact that half the continent was subjected to dictatorships with “radical left” ideologies.
Much like a “radical right” ideology would not be ok for you, even if someone means something nice with it (let’s pretend we can imagine this), “radical left” is not ok for the East (I am not starting a discussion about fascists vs. communists here, I am only looking for an example you can relate with).
If “radical left” is what you want this party to be, please tell me not to waste my time, money, and my vote for you. I am here for the pan-EU party that wants unity and fairness and this party will know how to respect half the continent. I really do not want to impose my opinion on anyone, I just liked DiEM a lot.

Yes, and the language here signals the concepts Eastern Europe was lied about and subjected to for a few decades and it is not happy about. It also signals that you ignore these people’s history. This is ok, just don’t pretend you expect them to like you.
It does not signal the “democracy, sustainability, prosperity, and peace” you declare in the introduction of the program.

And you are promising a brave new radical left world only to the workers? What are we going to do with the managers? Are we shooting them, are we reeducating them in some camps for former managers, or are we stripping their children from the right to education, in order to get them out of our way? I am asking, because all these did happen the last time.

Because people who suffered from being abandoned by the west in the Russian Empire’s sphere of dictatorships do not want to live in a fair society or because you are too arrogant to care?

So, tell me, comrade, do you know what the economic rhetoric of these authoritarian-smelling regimes is? Are you sure that they are not playing the same card you are? And aren’t I here to tell you that if you don’t want to sound like Orban and Kaczynski, you need a better language in your program?


#14

Really interesting debate here and I too believe that choice of words is important.
On that score, would you elaborate on “people who suffered from being abandoned by the west in the Russian Empire’s sphere of dictatorships”. When and how and is that really what people in eastern Europe think of us?


#15

This is not a very popular interpretation of historic events, but it helps understand some aspects of history.
It refers mostly to the Yalta Conference from 1945 and the Percentages Agreement from 1944 (that are usually confused with each-other), where Churchill hands over many eastern states to Stalin. These are probably symbolic acts that did not really change history, but still they do show how parts of Europe were written-off. Then came the Marshall plan. For some people. For others it didn’t. Look at the difference between Greece and Bulgaria.
I realize that this is Churchill and it has nothing to do with the continental West Europeans who had other problems at that time.
Although this does sound like a complete denial of the east of any agency, which is bad, dangerous, and plainly wrong, it does explain parts of the conflict we observe in Europe now. Let’s look at the Greek-Bulgarian example again. We keep talking about poor Greece and the tragedy of Greek people. I am sure that for these people, these are indeed tragedies, and I have no moral right to belittle them and this is not what I am trying to do here. If you relate the situation to the region, however, the picture becomes completely different: objectively they’ve been getting free money for decades and now suddenly the free money is less (yes, German banks, western corporations, bad government, but after all, the Greeks did eat the pie when they could which is normal and human). The standard of living in Greece is still a few times higher than the standard of living in Bulgaria, but no one is crying rivers about Bulgaria. Is this because Bulgarians are worse people? Or are we just used to seeing the former Soviet block as a place where suffering is normal and, honestly - ok, because that’s the east?
I am trying to propose that the implied causality “bad people”/“people with wrong values” -> “bad political situation”/“bad standard of living” that some West Europeans subconsciously apply to the East could be seen the other way around - history and bad way of life make people suspicious and plainly cynical. These are not your enemies, these are people who do not trust you because they have no reason to trust you.

P.S. 13.02.2019: And the language used in the program of ES gives them reasons to not trust you.


#16

I totally agree with you: ‘My’ ES movement should be “united behind a shared vision of Europe as a realm of democracy, sustainability, prosperity, and peace”.
That’s what is unique and new and badly needed in Europe (and elsewhere) nowadays.
The only “Radical left” point I really like to accept (and to add to the ES principles) is solidarity. We must overcome nationalisms and be solidaric within each other within EU. Therefore we should explore the ways that can lead us there, and if it’s a question of language and terms, than we should start by discussing and defining it (as it is happening here). So thank you for this Initiative.
Stressing the point of solidarity further, I already proposed a “real” European citizenship - not the “helpwise” one we now have, but one in first place, that gives you the same civil rights like every other inhabitant of the member state you live in. I think, this is a different topic but how do you feel about it, does it sound like “centralists betrayal” or like “forward to equality and freedom” to you?


#17

TAfricanski, this is an interesting and important discussion you have started.

You suggest, as one of the reasons why those from the East are hypersensitive to leftist-sounding rhetoric, that:

Ironically, people in the East are likewise probably unaware that the fact of “actually existing socialism” was one the factors which allowed people in the West to make social progress. Here in the UK (for example), in 1945 millions of people who had been instructed in the use of firearms arrived home determined not to accept the old dispensation AND an example of an alternative form of social organisation existed in the East (or so we thought). This was a potent combination which allowed the post war changes (NHS, etc) to take root in the fertile ground which had been prepared by decades of labour agitation.

Some 40 years ago I was in Moscow as a delegate of END. At the end of the week we had a final plenary meeting with a group of apparatchiks from the Soviet Peace Committee and I took the opportunity to vent my spleen and decry that fact that they (the Russians) had queered the pitch for us in the West by dragging the banner of Socialism through the gutter for the past 70 years!

Now that the USSR has collapsed we have the opportunity to make progress again. So, while I agree that…

it remains the case that the ideas of Marx, and of the left socialist tradition are (in my view) pretty well indispensable if we are to have any chance of navigating a way forward, supplemented of course by all that we have learned since the 19th century, and in particular the ecological perspective.

So, at risk of sounding patronising, perhaps part of this problem of vocabulary is for people in the East to improve their understanding of this history?


#18

In short, you are probably right. However, European Spring must not sleepwalk into this. Parties ask people to vote for them, not the other way around. Unless ES is willing to fight decades of rhetoric teaching East Europeans that communism=totalitarianism, this will be a problem for ES’ claim that it is a pan-EU political formation. Even if this language does attract some voters, these will be very different people from the western voters for ES. Our incumbent so-called “left” parties are very conservative now.
I do not claim any of this makes sense. And I may very well be wrong. As long as ES is having this discussion, I am happy.

Absolutely correct. It took me years to realize this fact. No one ever tells you this. And if someone tells you, it is within the framework of propaganda, and you know better than listen to propaganda. We are terribly lacking this discussion.
And honestly, it would be too much to expext from the East to have and even spread this memory. People were bombarded with so much propaganda and there was such a radical cut in the narrative, that history has turned into a legend. It is impossible to tell apart the damage done by the old regime from the damage done by zealous subscribers to neo-liberal ideologies. The West has also drifted towards unicorns and the discussion we get imported from the West is not better than the endemic ridiculousness. If you grow-up subscribing to the belief that “left”=bad and “right”=good, today’s internet and the political discussions in the West easily teach you that human rights are bad, for example.

Yes, they have. Convincing the world that they are socialist is the the single biggest ideological victory of the USSR.
However, you rightly mentioned that the very existence of a perceived alternative form of social organisation motivated the creation of (and pressured the elites into accepting) many elements of “actually existing socialism” that led to the progress of the West. So although they enabled the West to become the West, there was still this strong propaganda against that same progress surrounding everyone. And apparently it worked if it managed to queer the pithch for you. Imagine how much stronger it works in the East, that actually suffered the oppression and was told this was socialism.
I don’t think you will go far by telling these people to get educated.

Maybe, but Marx was born 200 years ago. He wrote about a world that does not exist today. He created a new concept, that was radical by definition, because it was new. He had to use radical language, because this is the only language that existed. Back then, this language had not been used by a few murderous regimes. He is quoted today by people who define themselves as radical. This is obviously something that cannot be for mass consumption today. I am not talking about denying importance of Marx, I am talking about being smart about it.
I am not questioning the values, I am questioning the rhetoric. The rhetoric exists in the context of time and history.


#19

Yes, well put, point taken. I agree then that we must avoid formulations that are “too triggering” and with this in mind I looked again at the program, looking specifically at the example you gave of the use of “workers”.

Worker(s) is used 18 times in the program and in almost every instance citizen(s) could be used instead. Indeed, the authors are at times not quite sure which term to use, as when they write:

  1. We believe in a better system: where international trade agreements foster prosperity while improving workers’ solidarity across borders. As European Spring, we will coordinate with like-minded parties and movements to engage with citizens inside and out of Europe about how best to mobilize economic interdependence.

and when introducing the Universal Citizens’ Dividend they write “All workers should share in Europe’s wealth — not just the privileged few.” which is clearly WRONG (unless, for example, pensioners are also “workers”!) and is corrected in the very next paragraph when they write that the UCD is “to be paid to every European citizen.”

In some circumstances, a slightly longer formulation is needed, as for example to replace “To fight against worker exploitation, we will establish the All-European Work Inspection Agency” one could write “To fight against the exploitation of citizens at work, we will establish the All-European Work Inspection Agency”.

And so on. I think it is actually mostly just laziness at work here and we should certainly not tolerate this if its effect is to reduce the appeal of the program.

I note that the program is still described as DRAFT. If we are not too late, I am happy to work with you and others to formulate and submit a detailed list of amendments to address this issue.


#20

Dear friends,
as I made clear earlier, language follows concepts and Nothing good Comes from blurring those. Further, this is a radical movement of the Left
(see Yanis in Le Monde Diplomatique, latest Edition:


Therefore I am strictly opposed to “sanitizing” our language of Terms that may (or may not) offend certain People (NB: if they don´t understand the Underlying concepts or are to brain-washed by Right wing ideologes, this is a sorry fact, however, they will never support us and our ideas anyhow. - So what?).

In short, there is little to gain there but much more to lose: `Cause sanitizing OUR language (at which the so-called Social Democrats were so successful that the ideas behind their movement became irrecognisable) will make us lose our core Group, i. e. educated radicals who understand the concepts of the struggle and are able to deliver the analysis so desperately needed to build a new and democratic Europe of the People, by the People and for the People.

c. d!