Mayworks 1

Wanted: Bright ideas for dark times

Social Movements

Greek protest aftermath. Used under Creative commons licensing:

In an interview with the New York Times, Warren Buffet gave credence to a proposition routinely denied by the mainstream media: “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” That governments are elected all over the Global North which so consistently flout the interests of the majority of working people in favour of further tax cuts for billionaires like Buffet can strain rational understanding, as can the growth in popular support for far-Right political options. Journalist Ritt Goldstein asked psychologist Daniel Burston to shed light on that paradox. His response: the far-Right capitalizes on the rage of a declining middle-class by offering “simplistic answers for exceedingly complex problems, and (developing) effective rhetorical strategies to motivate people to vote against their own long-term interests”; it appeals to “people’s sense of betrayal and victimization,” while avoiding “the real social and economic processes that left them vulnerable.”

Misdirected anger is fuelling the far-Right resurgence in the U.S., with the advent of the (elite-funded) Tea Party, and in Europe, where anti-immigration and anti-Islam parties appear to be the greatest beneficiaries of middle and working class frustration with neoliberal politics, conjuring up shades of that continent’s fascist past.

Of course, however disquieting the eruption of atavistic xenophobia and the successful marshalling of popular rage in shifting the centre of political gravity further rightward, we should not let it eclipse the bursts of resistance to the unrestrained rule of the market and its concomitant policies of deregulation and privatization.

Recent months have witnessed a number of mobilizations in Europe challenging the ongoing assault on social benefits. Most spectacular were the protests in Greece against austerity measures, the two months of demonstrations in France against raising the retirement age, the mass protests by London students against tuition fee hikes, and those in Dublin against the pension levy on public sector workers which brought more than 100,000 people into the streets.

These types of mobilization tend to be short-lived, however. Meanwhile, the social democratic parties that might have been expected to serve as a check on the free rein of the Right have increasingly become neoliberalism’s willing allies. It appears that no matter how irrational, oppressive and inequitable the system becomes, the left-of-centre parties refrain from opposing it, seeking instead to position themselves as more capable managers of capitalist economies.

The problem is that in contrast with the postwar period, today’s capitalist economy cannot offer the class compromises that underpinned the welfare state. To finance the bailouts of big capital in this economic crisis, the state has no choice but to slash public goods like pensions, education, and health care. All so bankers can once again revel in record profits. Little wonder working people feel betrayed and disillusioned with politics.

How can political organizing prove effective in the current unpropitious context? How can dissenters wage a war of ideas against the dominant mythologies of the free market and the clash of civilizations? What potential vehicles exist or can be forged for mass political resistance? How can those social movements that continue to struggle for social justice and environmental defence hope to have a concrete impact on state policies? These are questions which require an infusion of creative thinking on the Left, as we soldier on in the war of position. Undoubtedly, we need to use the tools that are available to us to greater effect: organizing and educating in our own backyards schools, universities, offices; door-to-door campaigning, which creates personal connections that can draw people into politics; taking advantage of various forms of social media. And we should also be learning and adapting some lessons from Latin America (Bolivia’s MAS, for example), where dissent not only continues to thrive but even scores victories.

This article appeared in the January/February 2011 issue of Canadian Dimension (Canadian mining companies invade the global south).


CUPE 2021 leaderboard

Browse the Archive