Tue | Sep 26, 2017

Horace Levy | Socialism alive

Published:Tuesday | August 2, 2016 | 8:00 AM

Extraordinary. Two and a half decades after the collapse of the Left and of what was perceived as such (the Soviet Union), socialism has been revived in the heartland of its archrival, the United States of America. Extraordinary, but not illogical.

Capitalist ugliness and rootedness there was bound to provoke a serious reaction, according to Karl Marx, anyway. It may have been the Internet, though, that made possible the implied victory over the media control exercised by the one per cent. More and more people have come to see that, even with its benefits, market capitalism has brought a huge inequality that is unacceptable.

For the last decade of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st, the forces on the Left floundered, trying to find their footing in a new world. For many in Jamaica, this was certainly the case with the Workers Party closing its doors. Inside the officially socialist People's National Party, the socialist ideal was eclipsed by other more urgent compulsions - the swing to liberalism in the early 1990s, and election-winning focus thereafter.

The depth and breadth of the Left movement in the US must not be underestimated. Bernie Sanders, a Jew from a working-class Brooklyn, New York family, has been preaching socialism from when he first tried for office as a 'democratic socialist' in staid upstate Vermont and lost, as a friend reminded me yesterday. For Bernie, in his presidential run, to return to New York's Jewish population and speak out for rights and equality for Palestinians was an act of profound courage and dedication to his socialist cause.

The 43 per cent of delegates backing him at the Democratic Party Convention is no passing phenomenon. Against all the calls for him to stop campaigning because he was going to lose, Bernie has now won a significant space in Hillary Clinton's pledged platform commitment for his policies on education, minimum wage, and a range of other major issues. What is more, he is staying for the long run behind his demands, not pulling out of the process.

Sanders has chosen this path over the third-party option that many were urging, recognising that strategically no quick victory is possible for socialism. That was the error of communism, not in choosing revolution, but in then thinking it could only succeed by prolonging the use of force. Changing the mindset of a whole people and its elected representatives is a longer process, as Bernie has explicitly pointed out. It is what democracy is all about.

 

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In the United Kingdom, where historically world capitalism sank its first roots, the Labour Party is rediscovering its socialist origins with Jeremy Corbyn leading that charge. He has taken heavy blows from the right-wing MPs in his party. He may well be replaced and Labour may have to remain in Opposition. Many of its own supporters recognise that a victorious party now would lack the breadth of parliamentary support required to push through socialist policies.

Still, socialism is alive and well in the two leading anglophone countries in the world. In Jamaica, many socialists found their niche early in non-governmental organisations of civil society. Like the north Europeans decades earlier, they noticed that the structure of society had changed: it required an approach not based exclusively on the traditional working class and old-style 'revolution'.

The interesting phenomenon today, though, is the surfacing of socialist rhetoric and proposals from Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) leaders, much to the People's National Party's (PNP) discomfort. However, in this early hour of its administration, the JLP is yet to deliver substance and the PNP is yet to show that it can get past personality and back to its original ideals. Both need to demonstrate more maturity in the present near-even split in parliamentary representation.

Socialist ideals are shared by many in Jamaica who would never place themselves, however, in a camp or party so named. How this preference can and will play out under the presidency of Hillary Clinton, who (as my friend also pointed out), based on her previous positions, is highly likely to start a war somewhere, will be very interesting. Such a step belongs to US imperialist behaviour, which (to its bewilderment) so makes the Arabs hate them and will not be welcomed here either. Can Bernie influence Hillary in this respect as well as in domestic policies? We shall soon see.

- Horace Levy is a human-rights campaigner. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.