Call a spade a spade and a Socialist a Socialist

22nd August, 2013 10:01 am

I don’t like to begin with a stereotype, but maybe it’s because I’m Northern that I will call a spade a spade. When I go out campaigning for the Labour Party I don’t find that using the think-tank language or big long flowery words really washes on the doorsteps. People want to know who you are, what you stand for and what you want to do for them.

So when the Christian Socialist Movement consulted and voted (by 67%, which I contest is not “huge” or “almost unanimous” as I read from some tweets) to change its name from “Christian Socialist Movement” to the wishy-washy “Christians on the Left” I will concede that is democracy and good luck to them. Although, I still don’t really know what “on the left” means; on the left of Thatcher or on the left of the SWP?

However this raises the question; why are we all so afraid to call ourselves Socialist? It is a clear political philosophy, and Christian Socialism is a distinct and historical branch of that philosophy. I’m proud to tell my politics as it is. I’m a socialist. And in no particular order I’m also a feminist, Christian, environmentalist, trade unionist, republican and proud Northerner who calls a spade and spade and a socialist a socialist.

So, no hard feelings as I cancel my membership to the Christian Socialist Movement as they move into the indefinable political category of “on the left”. CSM wasn’t ever one of the biggest socialist societies in the Labour Party, not because of the word Socialist, probably more because there aren’t that many Christians in the Labour Party. I hope they don’t ditch that word from their name too.

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  • Jamie

    ‘Christians on the Left’ isn’t that difficult to understand, is it? I concede it’s not the best name they could have picked but I don’t think the meaning is quite as evasive as you seem to think.

    Also, why would you cancel your membership based on the name? What they stand for hasn’t changed; they haven’t radically altered their constitution, which still refers to ‘Christian socialism’. The Labour Party is a socialist party according to its tradition and its constitution, but I assume you’re happy enough with the absence of the word ‘socialist’ in its name. All in all, I’m not really sure what your problem is.

  • Andy Walton

    Hi Cat. As a Christian Socialist (and a fellow northerner – a former resident of Lancaster who’s dearly hoping you can take the seat back from the Tories!) I have to disagree with you here.

    While I will still proudly call myself a Christian Socialist, the main aim of the name change is to increase the number of people involved. Like it or not, ‘socialist’ has become a word which many don’t respond to well. If we want to attract more members and become more of a force, attracting more Christians to join and campaign for Labour, then some change was needed.

    I’m committed to the historic Ethical Socialism of Tawney, Lansbury and Hardie. I hope to see it renewed in the party into the future. We can’t do that without increased support and dynamism. It’s as simple as that.



  • swatnan

    Jesus was a born again Christian, but I am against religion being brought into politics.
    Its almost as bad as saying that Labour is a moral crusade. The word ‘socialist’ itself has changed and so has ‘Labour’, and mean different things to different people these days.Perhaps we need to invent a new Title for these times which encompasses our beliefs and values.

    • NorthernLass

      How is Jesus a born again Christian?!

      • jaime taurosangastre candelas

        He was born of a human, and born again of his Father when his Ministry was revealed to him. He died for us, but was reborn for humankind, and if we are reborn, it is for Him.

        It was put to me simply: there is physical birth, and mental birth (or a realisation of consciousness), and they are not the same.

        (I do not expect an approving reception for such thoughts on LL, but this is a thread about Christianity and human community, so I make clear my understanding in that context)

        I grew up in a defiantly Christian Socialist household – my father ran until only 4 months ago a Mission of the Anglican Diocese of the Southern Cone in first Argentina and for the last 45 years in Chile. I have lost the Socialism element and am purely centrist now, not a member of Labour and often critical, but I have never lost my faith.

  • Michael Morgan

    Christianity and Socialism are highly compatible beliefs and while the far left cannot admit of any religious opiates the centre left certainly can. With the many ethical issues being ridden over rough shod by the Tory right and the lying Liberal centre perhaps it is a time for common decency and Christianity to meet for the common good.

  • Mike Homfray

    I think we need to talk about socialism a lot more. Not less. If the term becomes unfamiliar isn’t that because it isn’t being used?

  • Redshift1

    ‘Labour Party’ does what it says on the tin just as much. If we changed our name to ‘centre-left party’ it would be a comparably lame name-change.

  • MrsBurgin

    I’ve lived and campaigned in West Cumbria and still have many relatives there. I can do the “blunt northerner” thing with the best of them – and I’m slightly bemused as to what that has to do with the name change.

    I want CSM to reach out to churches, Christian charities, development agences, and individual Christians right across the country – including in places like West Cumbria. People in communities who are furious about the bedroom tax, who are helping to set up foodbanks, who organise community events – and prove day in day out that there really is such a thing as society. CSM should never retreat into being a talking shop of political ideology in some ivory tower in London. It should be on the streets of our cities, towns and villages reaching out to people who share our vision for a better world.

    When I mention “Christian Socialist Movement” in West Cumbrian churches, people are just as much bemused as anywhere else. I still have to explain to people who on earth we are before getting onto the really important business of working with them. Our equivalent organisations in other parties (CCF and LDCF) don’t have this problem because their names are self-explanatory.

  • NorthernLass

    As a northerner, I strongly dislike the term ‘on the left’ . To me, it rings of ‘wanky’ Southern phrases. I am a socialist, end of, but people always insist on having to put me on a political spectrum; to which I always come up as being ‘far left’.

    I think the author has a point. There aren’t many who are left of me yet to a Blairite, there are many left of them…left is a very broad term (and some who consider themselves ‘left’ that I would consider ‘right’….see how complicated this can all get).

    Socialist is as socialist does. To coin a phrase, it does exactly as it says on the tin. To me (someone who has studied theology and taught Religious Education) true Christianity is socialism pure and simple. I, as a Christian, would be proud of that term.

    I don’t think that’s the reason that CSM wasn’t attracting enough people, and I certainly don’t think the change of name will attract any more people (unless you’re the kind of person who likes wanky Southern phrases in the groups you join of course…)

  • JoeDM

    Politics + Religion = Social Poison

  • Chilbaldi

    Resigning your membership because you are disappointed with a cosmetic name change seems childish in the extreme. Seeing as you are a Labour PPC, lets hope your commitment to the Labour Party isn’t so paper thin.

    Christians on the Left is a naff name, but it is well meaning. And you must know that you have more influence throwing stuff out of the tent, than standing outside trying to throw stuff in.

  • Ben H

    I think it’s generally good for a name to do what it says on the tin. But I’m not convinced that “on the Left” is any more or any less wishy-washy than “Socialist”. Ultimately, socialism is a much-abused phrase. Any rigorous definition of it that took account of its historical meaning and usage would involve a high degree of state control and would show that many people who use it today in the Labour Party are not socialist at all, but social democrats or social Liberals. It’s just a feel-good piece of rhetoric. In the grand scheme of things, Stalin or Trotsky have more claim to the word than Ed Miliband or Neil Kinnock… (And the Labour Party has never been a socialist party, no matter what it says on our party cards. Merely a party with a minority of socialists within it.)

    • Redshift1

      Interesting the north/south divide on the interpretation of the word socialism.

      I think up north it is a far more broadly used phrase, probably because historically socialism in the north put down it’s roots through the coop movement, trade union movement and actually things like the methodist church (hence trade unionists calling each other brother or sister) very strongly. I guess socialism in the south was perhaps less grassroots and more intellectualised with Fabianism and perhaps orthodox Marxism.

      I think therefore socialism in the south these days translates more or less as Marxism, whereas up north it is regarded in a much broader (I would argue more accurate but then I am northern) sense.

  • PaulHalsall

    Martin Luther King?


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