The Labour Party’s impressive showing in Britain’s snap election on June 8 is an amazing victory for the Left and the international working class. It also stands as a thorough repudiation not only of critics of Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, but of socialism, in general.
No, Corbyn did not win the British election. He will not serve as Prime Minister—at least not anytime soon. It looks as though Theresa May will attempt to hold on to power by allying with the far-right Democratic Unionist Party (DUP)—sort of Britain’s version of the “alt-right.”
But May’s party—the Conservative Party—lost its Parliamentary majority, and her entire platform of “hard Brexit,” punitive austerity measures, has been roundly rejected. No matter what the out-of-touch pundits say, this is a victory for the left.
Here are three key lessons the American left can take from Labour’s victory.
- Bernie Sanders Would Have Won
I suspect this first point is hardly revelatory for anyone reading this blog, but it nonetheless bears repeating. Had Bernie Sanders emerged as the Democratic nominee for president last year, it is quite likely he—and not Donald “I Thought It Would Be Easier!” Trump–would be sitting in the White House right now.
And let us be perfectly clear on this point: Sanders did not legitimately lose the Democratic primary campaign to Hillary Clinton. His campaign was actively, intentionally, and maliciously sabotaged by the Clinton camp and the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Sanders certainly did not lose the primary, as many media pundits have suggested, because American voters are simply too “centrist,” or even conservative to vote for a self-described democratic socialist. Quite the reverse, in fact. (See below…)
The fact that Sanders was unable to overcome the DNC’s covert machinations to deny him the party’s nomination should be Exhibit A for why the left cannot use or “take over” the Democratic Party. The Democratic Establishment will simply never allow an actual progressive (never mind a semi-socialist) like Sanders to even advance to the general election. In fact, it is because of candidates like Sanders, George McGovern, and Eugene McCarthy that the Democratic Party shifted the nominating process to the unelected superdelegates, and away from the voters.
While my criticisms of Sanders’ (I seem to be the only person who is not on a first-name basis with the man) foreign policy positions remain, I would have been more receptive to his campaign had he run as an independent or even in the Green Party. And, while the DNC’s sabotaging of Sanders’ campaign has certainly soured many progressives on the Democratic Party, it is not clear that enough of them are ready to finally end their abusive relationship with the Democrats, for good.
Still, Sanders’ domestic platform of universal college tuition, single-payer health care, combating climate change, paying workers a living wage, and making the rich pay their fair share is unimpeachable. Furthermore, these social democratic policies are highly popular among working-class voters on both sides of the Atlantic. Indeed, it is for good reason that Sanders is currently the most popular politician in Washington.
Corbyn’s upset should forever silence the naysayers who insist a candidate like Sanders “cannot win,” or is inherently “unelectable.” He can win and he would have.
Turns out catering to working-class voters’ material interests—rather than relying on shallow identity politics and a promise to perpetuate the status quo—is, in fact, a winning strategy.
- The Abject Failure of Capitalism Has Created an Opening for Socialism
The bourgeois punditocracy clearly did not get the memo, but Marx is back. A spectre is once again haunting Europe, as well as Great Britain and America: The spectre of Communism.
Decades after being pronounced dead—that there is “No alternative” to “free-market” capitalism, in the words of Margaret Thatcher; that Western democracy had reached the “end of history”—there has never been a greater opening for socialist ideas. Indeed, for the first time since the end of the Cold War, a majority of Americans 18-29 years-old have a more favorable view of socialism than capitalism.
And it does not take a PhD in economics to see why.
Nearly ten years after Wall Street’s gambling binge ravaged the global economy, ushering in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, working-class Americans are still struggling to get by. The rising cost of college education, crippling student debt, stagnant wages, widespread urban gentrification, employers’ increasing reliance on temporary or contract workers over full-time, permanent employees, and the ever tightening grip of a sinister opioid crisis have all combined to signal the death knell of the already illusory “American Dream.”
A Reuters/Ipsos poll taken on Election Day 2016 seems to encapsulate the working class’s feelings of economic frustration and political alienation. According to the poll, 72 percent of respondents believe “The American economy is rigged to advantage the rich and powerful,” and 68 percent agree that “Traditional parties and politicians do not care about people like me.”
“[T]ry as the pundits may to bury him–Marx keeps resurfacing,” writes Paul D’Amato in his socialism-primer, The Meaning of Marxism.
His ideas are alive because his indictment of capitalism–though first penned in the 1840s–is still confirmed on a daily basis. As the misery worsens, the glaring class divisions give rise to what Marx argued was the motor of historical change–the class struggle. Everywhere around the world, the working class … –those whose labor produces society’s abundant wealth in exchange for a pittance–continues to organize, demonstrate, strike, and resist in various ways.
The point is socialists, leftists, radicals, and revolutionaries currently have an audience for their ideas that they have not had in nearly a century. And this audience has only grown in the months since Donald Trump’s election.
- We Cannot Merely Vote Socialism Into Existence
While the socialist traditions in many Scandinavian countries are more electorally-oriented, wherein socialist-leaning lawmakers work to enact democratic reforms within the capitalist system, Marxism is centered on the concept of “socialism from below.” In this conception of socialism, workers rather than being handed reforms from above by the government, actively participate in determining their own economic and social lives.
(Workers in Marx’s conception of socialism also own and control the means of production, which is a major differentiation between Marxism and the sort of democratic-socialism countries like Norway or Sweden represent.)
No doubt reforms that benefit workers in the here and now are important (things like raising the minimum wage, union negotiations, rent-controls, adequate and affordable health care, etc.).
But the “socialism from above” model overlooks where real power lies within capitalism. It is not with the Congress, the president or the courts, but within the corporate board rooms that truly exert the most influence over society. As such, even in the unlikely event that someone like Bernie Sanders were to become president, he would quickly find that he is considerably constrained in what sorts of legislation he could actually advance and just how far it could go.
This concept of “socialism from below,” was first advanced by Hal Draper in his 1966 essay, The Two Souls of Socialism.
“The heart of Socialism-from-Below,” Draper wrote, “is its view that socialism can be realized only through the self-emancipation of activized masses in motion, reaching out for freedom with their own hands, mobilized ‘from below’ in a struggle to take charge of their own destiny as actors (not merely subjects) on the stage of history.”
None of this is meant to undermine the very real successes of Corbyn, Sanders and other socialist torchbearers in recent years (and I would call them successes, even if neither Corbyn nor Sanders actually won elected office). It is merely a reminder of the importance of keeping our eye on the proverbial ball if we are serious about changing the world. It is extremely easy to get lost in the rush and excitement a campaign like Corbyn’s generates. But our ultimate aim is not to win elections. It is to win freedom.
So let’s get this class war started, to paraphrase Pink.
“Let the ruling classes tremble at a communist revolution,” Marx and Engels wrote in the concluding paragraph of The Communist Manifesto. “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Working men [and women] of all countries, unite!”
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