People have been building socialist organisations for a very long time. Karen Buckley discusses some ways to do it in the 21st century

Manchester Counterfire has recently gone from being a very small group of people to being a much bigger group.  As a result, we’ve become a serious political organisation with a growing audience. We’ve also been able to increase our involvement in the movements. Our meetings recently have attracted good crowds and we often have more members than non-members.

So how have we done this?

  • The crucial first thing was to have a bunch of people actively and creatively working in trying to provide some direction to the movements. An open and genuine approach to mass campaigning means people take us seriously.
  • Topics and titles of meetings are really important. Topics need to link to the key current political issues and debates of the day in order to capture people’s interest, questions, concerns and anger. For instance, the crisis in the NHS, Corbynism, or the rise is racism. By tapping into people’s concerns and having well informed speakers, it helps encourage people to come out on a dark, rainy Tuesday evening, as well as come again! Its also useful and attractive to have some meetings on more general Marxist theory. 
  • It’s important to hold meetings in decent inclusive venues where people like to go rather than say, the back room of an unpopular pub. For instance, Manchester, is now holding meetings in the city’s Northern Quarter, an area of the city with lots of bars and restaurants and popular with many people.
  • Good and informed speakers are needed who can speak well and knowledgably from a left wing perspective on the meeting’s topic. This gives credibility and shows that we are a serious and respectable organisation that people can trust and come back to.
  • Events need publicising as widely as possible. Counterfire Manchester has a Facebook page so we post events on there and encourage people to share with friends and family as much as possible. We produce leaflets for the bigger meetings and get these out as widely as possible (where we can, along with the Counterfire newspaper). We use the full spectrum of social media, including texts and e-mail (so its important to get people’s full details when they do come to meetings).To do all this its important to give enough time prior to a meeting to get the relevant publicity out.
  • We hold regular meetings so people can come to a variety of meetings rather than a one off basis. Regular meetings mean we can quickly respond to key political concerns and develop attendee’s political knowledge and understanding. It also enables us explain why people need to get involved and active in Counterfire and the movements connected to cf such as People’s Assembly and Stop the War Coalition. It also encourages people to become members of Counterfire.
  • It’s important to encourage people attending our meetings to get reading. Therefore have a range of Counterfire books and papers at meetings. For instance, I was encouraged to read John Rees’s short book Strategy and Tactics in one of the earlier meetings I attended. This book helped me understand how Counterfire linked to the movements and unions and so helped me put the political knowledge I was learning more effectively into practice. 
  • This leads to another point; it’s important to get new members involved in the wider campaigns and movements such as the People’s Assembly or Stop the War Coalition. We’ve been doing this in Manchester and quite a few of our Counterfire members are now enthusiastic members/organisers of People’s Assembly and Stop the War Coalition. As Counterfire members in the movements, our political knowledge and networks means we’re seen as serious activists which gains the respect of others’.
  • Being creative. As we evolve, it’s important to try new things. We are planning now to start a  Counterfire book club, for instance, which we think will be very attractive. In general we want to vary the kind of events we put on.
  • Finally we try and be as welcoming as we can to new people and encourage them to play as big a role in the group as possible