In Eric Ambler’s novel about the consolidation of Stalinist control in Eastern Europe in the 1940s, Judgement on Deltchev, the narrator says: “I know a lot about Pashik now. I know, for instance, that the black dispatch case that he carried so importantly rarely contained anything but a stale meat sandwich and a revolver”.
We are outside the time and period when the dispatch case was a symbol of status. And not at that pitch of political conflict in which, so memoirs tell us, the learned Russian Marxist Georgi Plekhanov always, when still in Russia and not yet in exile, carried brass knuckles and a revolver.
But most of us take a backpack or shoulder-bag to work or campus each day. What do revolutionary socialists need to carry in those bags?
Chatting with my daughters some years back, when they were pre-teen, I asked what they always carried with them.
My older daughter replied: “Hair-ties, bobby pins, and lip gloss”. This was in Australia: high temperatures make hair-ties a must if you wear your hair long. Her younger sister: “A notebook and a pen”.
The pen and the notebook, I think, are essentials for revolutionary socialists as they are for keen students. And a book or pamphlet to read whenever time allows, on bus or train or wherever.
What else? A Workers’ Liberty sign-up sheet, and a petition form for whatever petition we’re working with that month.
My way of doing that is to have a clipboard always in my bag. I have my to-do lists and other notes as well as the sign-up sheets and petition forms, so when occasion arises I can remove the other paper and use the clipboard for the petitions and sign-ups.
Copies of Solidarity. Set-piece public paper sales, on the streets, on campuses, and door-to-door, are important to make us publicly accessible and visible, but the average activist can sell a lot more papers as follow-ons from individual conversations (at and around work, around meetings, or just in everyday life).
Pamphlets, books, leaflets. My bag has a plastic envelope with one copy each of our most recent pamphlets and books (currently: Solidarnosc, Arabs Jews and Socialism, Climate, Luxemburg) and a few copies each of our latest leaflets (currently: Uyghurs, climate day school, Ideas for Freedom, upcoming London forums, Free Our Unions).
Keeping that envelope up to date requires care, but it’s necessary equipment if we are to be “permanent persuaders” wherever we go.
I’ve sold far more Workers’ Liberty books as outcomes of conversations in everyday life than I have, more formally, on stalls set up on the streets or at meetings or demonstrations. The stalls are important too, for our accessibility and visibility.