The following was written by T_J_D @elephantlass
You are probably familiar with the usual definition of Socialism as:
‘a social and economic system characterised by social ownership and/or social control of the means of production and co-operative management of the economy, as well as a political theory and movement that aims at the establishment of such a system‘
But for most people, I think, it is a much more personal business. For me, equality is a core belief and this is what motivates me as a Trade Unionist, as well as influencing how I analyse and react to both world/national events, and my relationships with those around me.
I have always been on the left politically and have always voted Labour, with varying degrees of enthusiasm through the years. My political beliefs and values haven’t changed all that much since I was in my twenties but I think mainstream politics have moved considerably to the right over the same period. Once a centre left moderate, I am now mildly astonished to find that I have become something altogether more radical. A socialist. How can this have happened?
In the chaotic days following the 2010 General Election, I realised that notions of equality and fairness were going to be amongst the first casualties of Labour’s loss of power; these were deemed to be luxuries we could no longer afford in the aftermath of the financial crash. Despite the insistence that ‘we’re all in this together’, the idea that equality and fairness were outmoded values had to be constantly reinforced by the coalition government, as it was essential for their purposes; austerity has at its heart gross inequality and manifest unfairness so these inconvenient values had to be steamrollered out of existence for the austerity lie to take root. Anyway, a cabinet full of privately educated men, most of whom are millionaires, would barely notice their disappearance.
Living as I do in a southern Tory heartland, my distress at this turn of events was worsened by the isolation I felt. Few people around me seemed aware of the significance of the change which had occurred and fewer still seemed willing or able to see where this ideological stance would ultimately lead. Most people seemed to blithely think that all political parties were the same, and that all politicians were merely out to feather their own nests (a legacy of the expenses scandal – that duck house had ramifications far beyond the moat).
However, one evening I heard a commentator on Radio 4 saying all the things I believe, making all the points I wanted to make and giving voice to all my concerns. He was speaking articulately, knowledgeably and passionately but the thing that struck me most forcefully was his sense of optimism. He was expressing what I believe; that we are better than this, that we can and should do better than this, that we are a rich country and that the most vulnerable amongst us should not be punished for a financial crash that wasn’t caused by them. I stopped what I was doing to listen to the interview and made sure I caught the name of the speaker when it ended. It was Owen Jones, and when I googled him afterwards, I discovered he was happy to describe himself as socialist.
This was interesting, as the S-word had been out of fashion for so long. It was routinely used as a put-down to describe a certain type of deluded, out-of-touch political obsessive, or someone in a donkey jacket who sold newspapers on a windy city thoroughfare. Yet here was an engaged, intelligent, youthful and optimistic commentator, who spoke in clear language rather than political jargon, comfortably using the term to describe himself. He was, as far as I could tell, reclaiming the word. Furthermore, if Owen Jones was a socialist, and he was articulating my beliefs and concerns, surely that meant I must be a socialist too?
I gradually started deploying the word in conversations, albeit tentatively at first; when no one ran away shrieking or threw rotting vegetation at me, I grew bolder and became more confident in using the term to describe myself and what I believe in and stand for. Eventually, I found myself saying it with real pride. As the MSM lurched further to the right, as it became more important to oppose the cruel legacy of austerity; this was a straightforward way of defining who I am and what I believe in, as well as offering an alternative way of doing things. It really doesn’t have to be like this!
Like all the other socialists I now know (thanks, Twitter!), the 2015 General Election result was a bitter blow. Indeed, it was a bitter blow to any sane person, anyone with a social conscience and anyone with a heart, irrespective of how they might define themselves politically. Labour’s defeat was pretty comprehensive, made worse by a Tory administration which only commanded 24% of the popular vote; a toxic blend of apathy and fear carried Cameron back to number 10. Since then, however, I feel I have been in the astonishing position of surfing a zeitgeist wave, which has enabled the election of Jeremy Corbyn as the leader of the Labour party.
This has been a real grass roots movement, perhaps influenced and inspired by the Podemos and Syriza parties in Europe, which has had the effect of galvanising and energising the left. For the first time in a generation, the Labour Party is led by someone who is not afraid to describe himself as a socialist.
(Although Ed Miliband did say he was bringing back socialism, he also felt he had to deny that he was an ‘old fashioned socialist’ in the inevitable media onslaught which followed)
The election of Corbyn has opened the floodgates for a wave of hope and optimism which is sorely needed now. Apathy and fear are what got Cameron his second term and are what the Tories are counting on to allow them to carry through their austerity lie, their destruction of the NHS and their selling off of the country’s few remaining assets to their hedge fund chums and backers. Just think how unnerved they would be to have witnessed, as I did recently, someone at a Labour party local ward meeting saying how good it felt to be in a room full of people who were not afraid to describe themselves as socialists.
Socialist. So–cia–list. Roll the syllables around your tongue. Say it out loud. Say it in front of other people. Say it with pride. Feels good, doesn’t it?
We’re here. We’re proud. We’re socialists. We can do this.
By T_J_D @elephantlass
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