The word comrade and why I don’t want to be called it.
So I’ve wanted to write about why I find the word ‘comrade’ alienating for a while, but struggled to articulate exactly why it makes me feel uncomfortable.
Firstly, I find the word comrade impersonal. It’s often used to address collectives, often collectives of strangers, and I never assume that strangers are in any sense my comrades. Even at left-wing meetings/events I don’t trust people to have intersectional politics, and, as a woman and survivor, I don’t trust them to have non-patriarchal/victim-blaming/rape-apologist politics. It takes a long time to gain my trust, and until someone has my trust I am not happy to declare them allies.
Secondly, it is, in my mind at least, inextricably linked with pale, stale, males. I can’t help but think of Old Men holding Socialist Worker. I’m aware that this is a bit irrational, but I can’t help it. Years of being at meetings, on speaker panels, on pickets and at conferences have just entrenched these connotations. I remember very specifically the first time it turned me off, and I was speaking on a panel at Edinburgh Uni about cuts and poor people (I’m often token poor person wheeled out to talk about poor people). I think it was my second year at Uni, and so I’d only been calling myself a communist for a few months, probably. I’m a Millbank child. Three people spoke, they were all young people, and I think the panel had a 50/50 men/women split. We all spoke about our designated topic for a few minutes, and answered a few questions. The last person spoke, he was a white, middle aged man from (I think) a Trotskyist organisation, or possibly a trade union. He immediately stood up, clapped his hands, and addressed the room as ‘comrades’. I felt like he had imposed on my space (I was sat next to him). He was overbearing. Every time he said comrade I felt more and more like he was not my comrade.
Thirdly, I feel addressing someone as comrade creates a reciprocal relationship. You can’t be a comrade to someone, and them not a comrade to you. I feel that when someone calls me comrade, they’re saying ‘I am your comrade, you are mine’. As I said earlier I have trust issues and it takes a lot for someone to gain my trust, particularly politically speaking. It feels invasive.
I understand that the word has a lot of history, that it might be useful, and that some people do like it. I just have many problems with it, and I request that you don’t declare me your comrade.