Why are many lefties so thick? Three recent events pose this question: the mob that harassed Douglas Carswell; Len McCluskey's threat to sue Nick Cohen for libel; and the vandalism of a war memorial by anti-Tory protestors.
There's a common theme here. These episodes reinforce the worst image of the left - that it (we) are self-righteous bullies who care nothing for the liberties or sensibilities of others. I fear, therefore, that they actually detract from the left's cause.
For this reason, they reinforce Nick's criticism - that the left has lost "any notion of how to change a society."
Of course, social change is vastly complex and poorly understood. But I'd suggest that narcissistic posturing is perhaps not the best way to achieve it. Feudalism did not give way to capitalism because villeins protested their moral superiority to their lords, so perhaps capitalism won't convert to socialism this way either.
So, what can lefties do instead?
We could start by heeding Rebecca Winson's advice, and find a way to preach to the unconverted. For some of us, this means blogging about how inequality imposes social and economic costs; how austerity is based upon economic illiteracy; how Tory policies have real human costs; or how tolerance of injustice is based in part upon cognitive illusion. Sure, our audience is small. But if millions of people have a few, rational discussions with millions of others, it adds up.
In this context, language matters. I'm not sure that "fuck Tory scum" is a way for the left to win friends. Nor do I like the phrase "ordinary working people": who wants to think themselves ordinary?
Another thing is to find stepping stone changes: apparently small changes that can lead to others. My call for Brailsfordism might fit this bill: in inviting workers to suggest improvements, it is intended to build class consciousness - to embolden workers to recognize that they, and not bosses, have the potential to organize institutions themselves.
Here, there might be a case for those much-derided "safe spaces": fora in which marginalized groups can speak without being dominated by white men might give some people the confidence to become more politically active*.
Yet another thing we can do is to encourage socio-technical change. There's widespread agreement that Marx was right that "the mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life" - that "the hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill society with the industrial capitalist." The work of Jeremy Greenwood and Ian Morris vindicates this view.
Perhaps another technology-induced social change is occuring. For example, the collapse in the cost of storing and transmitting information makes dencentralization - worker control - feasible where previously there was hierarchy. And lower capital requirements might be undermining the monopoly power of big capitalism in favour of smaller companies. We can encourage this for example by spending our money at indepedent coffee shops, craft breweries, worker coops or through P2P lending rather than at capitalist firms.
What I'm saying here is that the transition to a better society might occur not (just) by protesting or waiting for a big bang revolution, but as a result of countless small individual actions, which might have echoes throughout society. Obviously, I don't know what all these actions should be - but if the left can apply millions of brains to the question, it might find some answers.
* Jason Brennan counters than safe spaces can be infantilizing. It's possible that both views are right, depending upon the precise institutional context from place to place.