After years of organisation and ground work, socialism has finally reappeared in western politics. It’s hard not to feel swept up by its arrival, to see it as some sort of homecoming. Though if one is honest, there is the awful feeling that it’s probably too little and 30 years too late. It is sad to say it— at least for me, a socialist at heart — but its appearance now threatens to look like an afterthought. In true last-second desperation, it’s not until the ship is almost sunk that we become ready to try and salvage it. Many now recognise, even some in the mainstream, that our societies and governments need more than an ideological readjustment, they need to be completely dismantled and started anew.
The recent joint surge of Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, while providing a heartening and interesting display, is unlikely to generate any serious change unless paralleled by a revolution of the masses. Our system is too deformed and corrupted to be saved from the inside via political and ideological reshuffling. It needs the applied outside pressure of the collective, and an overwhelming mass-demand for substantial change and system restart.
I lament to say this as many of us have invested vast quantities of time and enthusiasm in grass-roots political efforts in an attempt to open the way for authentic characters like Sanders and Corbyn. We have spent long, illuminated evenings discussing plans and possible actions, hoping to redefine the political system, to remake it to our people-focused specifications. It is only now that many of us realise how truly we have failed.
To offer the only solace available to the weary and no longer youthful, it could be said that we didn’t fail as much as were unable to perceive how broken our system was. We failed to spot the truth of the neoliberal paradigm — the inbuilt impossibility of true democratic change without complete overhaul. Under the sway of capitalism, every idea and effort, like every commodity, has been consumed, reformed, commoditized or discarded. Truth and its pursuit has had little or no lasting effect against the inherent systemic flaws of our political and economic monster-machine. The human-good was always consumed by the system-corrupt.
This is not to say that things can’t change. Indeed they will, one way or another. But it will come down to how able we are to collectively generate wide-spread change rather than from an act of voting into office one progressive voice. Politics has failed to serve the people so now politics must make way for the people.
We know now more than ever the depths of corruption and inequality inherent in our political systems. The corporatocracy owns our governments and the financial sector dominates our collective cognitive-map. Everything has been reduced to garish simulation – from voting and campaigning, right through to lobbying and law change. Fakery has officially won the war of attrition. Politics as a mechanism for change was hijacked long ago by the disingenuous rhetoric of phony plutocratic mouth-pieces. It matters not how they are dressed up – whether as democratic representatives or as tyrants and economic plunderers. The end result has always been the same – the fundamental undermining and destruction of humanitarian democracy.
One only needs look at how the media and political spheres are reacting to the appearance of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn in their respective countries. Corbyn is being attacked from all sources, both inside his party and out. Even his fellow Labour MP’s – some of whom put him forward for the party leadership – are now participating in acts of character assassination, party-betrayal and public ridiculing, with an undertone of fear that his leftist leanings have the power to corrupt the party’s public appeal even further than under Miliband.
This just acts to further highlight how redundant and ineffectual modern politics are and how far we have strayed from the path of true democracy. It is a telling sign indeed for Labour to so quickly and ruthlessly turn on one of their own, especially one who wears his authenticity as honestly as his socialist beliefs. Ironically, he is exactly the kind of leader they need for healing renewal and momentum, but as an indicator of how far they have mutated to the centre, they now see leftism as unappealing and akin to political suicide.
In a way their concerns are valid as Corbyn’s policies and ideology are indeed the enemy of Labour’s political plasticity and empty rhetoric. Though for us on the left we see this equation the other way round. It is the influence of phony politics that are toxic – under their sway, politicians are either reduced to party-line automatons or are destroyed and cast aside.
We live in an age where it’s normal to expect the politicians who represent us, who we vote for, to not actually represent us. We have been conditioned to believe that it is unreasonable to expect our democratic leaders not to lie, manipulate and break promises. This can be particularly highlighted when superimposed over any other activity in our society. Where else would corruptibility be so revered and rewarded? Interestingly I can only think of one other non-criminal profession which is so openly and unapologetically dishonest – the banking and finance sectors.
In the US, Bernie Sanders has been drawing record crowds with his crisp socialist oratory and outspoken attacks on Wall Street and the ruling elite. In a political anomaly of huge proportions, his campaign is being funded by the common-citizen – his average donation is $33.51 and he refuses to take money from billionaires. He even has the support of some of the Occupy movement, a group that could help generate the support of many non-voters and the politically-active young and disenfranchised. While it is refreshing to hear him speak, knowing that he means what he says, it isn’t enough to have votes and campaign money, what he needs is mass-public momentum.
He too is receiving animosity from all sides, with some democrats upset that he is watering down their voter-base and paving the way for a GOP upset. A bigger risk than this is our investment in such campaigns without the necessary mobilisation to back them up. Too many times have the people put all their eggs in one basket only to find out later that the basket had no base. The crisis in Greece reminds us of this unfortunate truth.
It is important to acknowledge that both Sanders and Corbyn have been involved for decades in grass-roots community activism and social change movements. In a way they are the products of the collective spirit and as such they can be seen as the real-deal and thus deserving of some backing. This is further highlighted by the support of many of the trade unions — not an easy feat when you consider how strained or broken these ties have been in recent years.
The issue for both candidates is not just how unlikely it is for them to win, but how unlikely it is for them to be able to deliver on any progressive promises they make. With Obama, we experienced how impotent a president can be when faced with a hostile senate and in the pocket of the financial elite. Sanders has said himself that the necessary and far-reaching changes to be made can only be achieved with a sweeping mass revolution. We have seen it before — what good is one honest man in a house full of thieves?
While it is largely impossible that either will receive the backing of the corporate and plutocratic bosses of their political systems, and so it is unlikely they will win their campaigns, this is not to say that their public appearances do no good. Of course they do. If nothing else they help to remind us all of what is possible when we work as a collective for the common good. The only other consideration then, from a leftist point of view, is to what end do we back such authentic men?
Many in the establishment would be happy to see the number of voters’ continue to decrease, for the less of us that vote, the more surely the elite will stay safely entrenched. While it may seem counter-intuitive to some, many on the left already feel the need to abstain from voting, in protest of a system that is built to fail the people. While it is easy to pessimistically observe that voters have become disillusioned with politics in recent years, rightly feeling that what they do has little lasting effect, this is far from being the full story. There are many who, rather than participate with the current system, are highly active and motivated to start some alternative replacement. How this would look if it came about is still a matter for the collective imagination and if built, will hopefully be by the hand of the people rather than the state.
It has become political folly to harbour expectations, to expect politicians to tell the truth or to keep their promises. Integrity was long ago traded in for marketability, duty, and responsibility for individual gain. It is easy for the old-guard to assume that the young don’t vote due to lazy indifference, but this far from the truth. It can be clearly stated that the young feel disenfranchised and disillusioned by politics, not indifferent to them. So it is with us — the transitional generation — that a shift of focus is required. Socialism, that beautiful and giving ideology, has come too late to be enough in the face of a broken system unless we are all mobilized behind it, with the young as our new and vibrant leaders.
In usual fashion, the articles and arguments come steadily from the mainstream, explaining and analysing the policies and possible effects. Raising the minimum wage in the US to $15, increasing taxes on the rich, regulating the financial sector and honestly dealing with climate change are all picked apart and denounced as economically unviable. Many are correct in their analysis – such policies are not viable under the current system but what the media fails to understand and politicians fail to acknowledge is that if the system cannot provide equality and care for everyonethen we need a new system.
Perhaps the arrival now of two true socialist leaders is a positive sign that the people are becoming more open to a transfer of power. What activists and ground-swellers have always known is that change happens from the collective. We must all be the leaders of change in order for it to be powerful and effective. Perhaps the tides are finally turning in our favour. Let’s not waste this chance.