Do you feel uncomfortable or self-conscious using the term 'comrade' as a form of address? Yes? That's the idea - that is what the establishment elite has been trying to achieve for many years. Don't let them.
It's been disappointing to see a number of online conversations recently where people said they felt uneasy or embarrassed to use the term 'comrade' even when talking to fellow socialists.
It's sad, but not altogether surprising. There has been a conscious and concerted effort dating back to at least the1950s, and possibly before, to marginalise the word. This has been done in several ways: First, by demonising, linking it to reds-under-the-bed, dangerous, unpatriotic communism (subtext: all communists are probably spies, and therefore untrustworthy and to be feared). In fact, the word was first used by members of the Socialist movement long before it came into popular use in Soviet communism.
Secondly, by trivialising and ridiculing the word - we need look no further than film and television for examples of this.
'Citizen Smith' in 1977 - a seemingly innocuous series which portrayed the Wolfie Smith character as an unrealistic, fairly ridiculous figure with an impractical and (implied) undesirable ideology. A figure of fun. The series set out to mock the socialist movement at a point when it was weakened - and look what happened in 1979...
Other examples include 'Comrade Dad' starring George Cole, spoof crime show 'Comrade Detective' and the cringingly dreadful 'Not Now, Comrade (think 'Carry on Comrade' and you've got the picture)
Now we're not suggesting that the advent of Thatcher was a direct result of films or TV sitcoms, nor that there was some huge conspiracy involved here: simply pointing out that public perception can often be influenced by seemingly unimportant things, repeated themes and tropes, drip-fed into our general consciousness to the point where they become accepted as fact by large numbers of people.
So when the media or right wing politicians (of whatever party) want to attack a socialist - oh, I don't know, let's say Jeremy Corbyn, for example, they take the word comrade and weaponise it.
And the attacks are not just on the Labour leadership, or other high profile figures - they are directed, daily, at rank and file socialist across the board - or 'entryist Trot rabble shock troops' as they would have people believe us to be.
But why would the establishment seek to marginalise, ridicule or discredit a word inextricably linked to socialist ideals? The answer is simple. It scares them. The very idea that anyone - let alone a mass movement of people - is not just out for themselves, but instead out for each other, is anathema to a system that has sought and found ever more ways to divide people along class, gender, economic, racial, religious and other lines. 'People being equal? - What, all of them, not just the few? No no no, we can't be having that - call them cultists'
There has been no time for many decades when it has been more important for we in the Labour movement to encourage, celebrate and sustain the spirit of comradeship. Because think about it - if our movement, our ideology and our leadership was so ridiculous and ineffectual, with no chance of success, why on earth would they expend so much energy and time seeking to attack and undermine.it?
To quote US activist Kevin ‘Rashid’ Johnson, in 2013: “We need to purge ourselves of the tendency to use terms of address that connote cliques and exclusive relationships. A comrade can be a man or a woman of any colour or ethnicity, but definitely a fellow fighter in the struggle against all oppression”
“Terms like “mister” or “youngster” imply a difference of social status, entitlement to greater or lesser respect and built-in concepts of superiority or inferiority”
“Comrade,” however, connotes equality and respect. It implies “I’ve got your back,” and “we are one.” Comrades stand united unconditionally…..It implies a relationship that is inclusive, not exclusive, and not based on any triviality but solidarity. It represents the socialist future we seek to represent in the struggles of today, and the eventual triumph of classless society”
“Conscious use of the term “Comrade” instead of the many disparaging terms of address popular today, explicitly connects all people up as humans and equals. It reminds us of our interdependence for survival; promotes relations of equality, friendship and camaraderie between all oppressed and exploited people; it expresses the unified outlook of the proletariat; and it will promote a change in people’s outlook and thinking”
“As Amilcar Cabral expressed in “Our People are Our Mountains”: “I call you ‘comrades’ rather than ‘brothers and sisters’ because if we are brothers and sisters it’s not from choice, it’s no commitment; but if you are my comrade, I am your comrade too, and that’s a commitment and a responsibility. This is the political meaning of ‘comrade’.”
“In the interpersonal sense, camaraderie binds people by respect, mutual support and trust, making organisations cohesive and stable. It builds and cements unity in the process of struggle, generating mutual confidence between people, affirming that we can rely upon each other regardless of the dangers that come from standing for the people and social justice for all”
Sadly, it is noticeable which people, both in the PLP and the wider membership, have trouble with using the word comrade, other than with a visible or implied Blairite curl of the lip. Me, I'm proud to call my fellow socialists comrade, and to know that they have my back, as I have theirs. When someone can't or won't call you comrade - they probably haven't.
Our comradeship is our greatest strength, and they know it. Let's reclaim it from the mockers. Right, comrades?
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