Professional pounder of the patriarchy.

Posts tagged ‘socialism’

It’s 2017. What now?

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

To all my readers and followers, thank you for making 2016 so rewarding (and challenging). A lot happened last year – a lot – and I’ve had to rethink my politics very carefully over the course of the year. I’ve had to come to terms with my failings and my shortcomings. I’ve had to educate myself on issues of which I wouldn’t otherwise have formed an opinion. I’ve had to change.

Of course we had Brexit, followed by the election of Donald Trump. There have been terror attacks, sieges, military coups and political dissent. At times, the left and progressive movements in general seemed to be on the verge of collapse.

However, rather than seeing these events as a defeat, we should see our persistence, our survival, as a triumph. We can and should mourn the people who have lost their lives. We should lament the state of politics and the dissolution of diplomacy, both in the West (with the rise of the far right) and in the Middle East.

Once we have mourned, the next step is to address our flaws, no matter which social justice movement we belong to. We need to consider why people find right-wing populism so appealing. How can the left – both here in the UK and elsewhere – mobilise effectively?  How can feminists engage with the left and what should our role be? How do we solve the issues that matter to ordinary people?

Then we fight. We read and we research; we write and we speak. We protest, loudly and with conviction.

Treat 2016 as less of an inferno and more of a fuse. Let it burn inside your heart.

“Time to make a difference” – Jack Monroe

“Austerity is necessary; we need to tighten our belts. What about when those belts are tightened around the necks of the most desperate who hang themselves from the rafters because their benefits have been cut? Because that was a friend of mine.

A powerful talk by Jack Monroe, writer and activist, on their experience of poverty. In order to help other families who were struggling to raise children on less than £10 a week, Monroe began sharing cheap recipes on their blog Cooking on a Bootstrap. You can find them as @MxJackMonroe on Twitter.

What the US election should teach us

You’ll probably be aware by now that Donald Trump is now president elect of the United States. Here in the UK, we found out in the early hours of Wednesday morning and, believe me, it ruined my day.

It seems almost impossible. Days later, I have to remind myself every few minutes that, yes, this is actually happening. The US have managed to elect an unqualified bigot, who stands accused of sexual assault and only picked up politics as a hobby last year. There’s a huge disparity between Trump and the Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton –  Clinton is vastly more qualified, has 30 years of experience in politics and handled her campaign (and ultimate defeat) with dignity and calm. She failed to win over voters in the electoral college – although she did, in fact, win most of the popular vote – and this is largely because people simply don’t trust her. She will forever be linked to Bill Clinton’s scandals; she will always be associated with the disastrous handling of Benghazi. She is overshadowed by a political dynasty and that is extremely difficult to shake off. There’s some staggering sexism to be found in her treatment. Throughout the long, tumultuous campaign, it seemed Trump could get away with just about anything under the guise of “business sense” or “locker room talk”. Clinton couldn’t.

On the one hand, of course, this is wildly unfair, it does Clinton (and powerful women everywhere) a disservice and we must fight it. However, her party and the moderate/centrist movement as a whole should have seen this coming a mile off. It should not have been a surprise. She was not, in far too many ways, an ideal candidate. She should have been everything Trump was not, wrapped up in a progressive, trustworthy package. Instead, the Democrats put forward a candidate that is practically emblematic of corporate America. They lost because of racism, because of misogyny, because of the irresistible potential of a new license to hate under Trump, but also because of a lack of enthusiasm on the part of habitual Democrat voters. They just couldn’t get behind Clinton, so they voted for a third party, they voted for an independent candidate, or they didn’t vote at all.

I understand why the American electorate might have opted for someone different. I see the allure of that. But the truth is: Trump is not different. He is not a politician – something many Trump supporters seemed to revel in, bizarrely – and is therefore unqualified. He is not anti-establishment, which also seemed to draw voters in. If anything, Trump will run the country like a business, moreso than any past president ever has done.

Bigotry and prejudice have been vindicated. People have challenged me about saying this and accused me of being anti-democracy, because Trump was elected democratically. If thinking a vile, prejudiced rapist should be barred from holding any kind of office makes me “anti-democracy”, then fine – I’ll wear the label with pride. Brexit was also chosen in a democratic, public referendum and it too was characterised by propaganda and prejudice. In the wake of Brexit, the rate of hate crimes in the UK increased by 41% and it’s not an overreaction to protect yourself or to fear for your safety now. We should see this as a warning sign that people are being mis-sold extremist politics that actively damage communities under the guise of cheerful populism. In the same way that the right here in the UK can cultivate this blame game (e.g. “the immigrants are taking your jobs”, “scroungers are fiddling benefits”), Trump and the US alt-right can masquerade as annoying internet trolls – which is largely accurate! – but also promote something much more sinister.

Finally, I wanted to conclude by reminding anyone reading this, American or otherwise, that this is not the end. We can mourn, and I don’t blame you – particularly if you are part of a minority group – for mourning and for being very scared indeed.

The main thing we should all take away from this is that we should still fight. We have a responsibility to make our society a better, fairer one. We have a duty to those who came before us and those who will follow us to make equality our priority. However, we also have a right to safety from violence and discrimination. We can expect to see that right abused and taken away if the surge of support for far-right politics continues.

Liberals, progressives and the left have to mobilise. Right now.

Women and the Left

Alternative title: I’ve Got Tits And I’m In Your Trade Union.

I saw a comic earlier on Facebook, by an artist called Suzy X, which perfectly encapsulated something I’ve been pondering for a while.

6008918971_06a74b3240

If you’re a fan of Vice or its sister site Broadly, you might have seen the article they published on the “brocialism” phenomenon (x). Essentially, a brocialist is a man with right-on leftist politics but a dodgy set of morals when it comes to women. It might sound silly and, to be fair, I laughed at the article while reading it.

I stopped laughing when I realised that it was all too familiar. It’s often difficult for people who are fighting a cause – such as resisting class-based oppression – to recognise oppressive actions in themselves and their activism. As they focus on one area of privilege, they may lose sight of others. We see this in “white feminism”, which erases the nuanced experiences of women of colour and fails to address intersectionality. If you bring up issues of intersectionality in certain circles, you may be accused of pandering to “identity politics”. In this same way, leftists who also happen to be feminists, like myself, get a lot of flack for “dividing” the movement.

Obviously class is an important indicator of social privilege – I’m not suggesting that we should abandon it altogether – but women and DFAB people have an important role to play within the left. In fact, I’m of the opinion that class should be incorporated more into feminism. Women’s experiences, particularly if they are wives and mothers with families to support, are intimately connected with working-class issues or disadvantages associated with a low income background. For example, as shown in a study by UNESCO in Ethiopia and others by UNICEF in Eastern and Southern Africa, poverty is the main barrier to girls’ and women’s education. Girls are traditionally entrusted with domestic tasks such as fetching water. If the only source of water is far away and requires a time-consuming journey, this results in more girls being late to or absent from school. There is also a stark lack of “gender-sensitive” teaching; therefore, girls grow into women who don’t know how to protect themselves from STDs. UNICEF have stated: “Educated girls can better protect themselves against HIV, trafficking and abuse. Educating a girl also means that as a woman, she is empowered and more likely to participate in development efforts and in political and economic decision-making. Women who went to school usually manage to increase the household income.” When women are educated and empowered, it holds benefits for their families and even for whole communities.

An example closer to home (at least for me!) is the impact de-industrialisation has had on family life for working-class people, right here in the UK. Historically, men from predominantly working-class have participated in “skilled” work, i.e. they learned a trade or took on a job manufacturing a specific material/product. In my area, our main industry throughout the nineteenth century and much of the early twentieth century was chain-making. However, in the latter part of the 20th century, our industries and the communities that had grown around them suffered. There are lots of reasons for this, but the actions of Margaret Thatcher and the war her government waged on trade unions were primarily responsible. For people outside the UK, you probably won’t be aware of the major turmoil that occurred during Thatcher’s stint as Prime Minister, when thousands of miners (mining being a job rooted in the working class) participated in strikes during the 70s and 80s. In an article for New Statesman, Owen Jones specifically linked de-industrialisation with the changing status of masculinity in our society: “…what it means to be a man is in a state of flux. Deindustrialisation, undoubtedly, is a fundamental reason. Britain’s economy has been increasingly emptied of skilled industrial jobs. Take manufacturing: while 5.6 million people worked in the sector in 1982, only 2.6 million did last year.” When men lost their jobs as a result of mass de-industrialisation under Thatcher and the legacy of privatisation that followed her, it placed greater pressure on women to provide for their families, and areas of England, Scotland and Wales remain poverty-stricken. You’ll find that the poorest areas are those that historically thrived due to industry.

Women are not just passive victims in class war. Our foremothers have fought to find a voice and a platform within the left, which is why it angers me so much that we should have to reaffirm our place in the movement. In 1930s Spain, the anarchist organisation Las Mujeres Libres fought to empower working-class women.  The women of the Spanish anarchist movement felt marginalised. They were laughed at when they tried to contribute during meetings and this made women hesitant to speak up. This angered Mujeres Libres because the movement was supposed to oppose and ultimately abolish all forms of oppression and social hierarchy. They put an emphasis on a “double struggle”, in which they could pursue both women’s liberation and social revolution. In order to give working-class women the best opportunities to participate, they organised childcare services and schools. They also developed literacy courses, social studies classes and medical training. I love the story of Mujeres Libres, purely because of how brilliant they were at meeting the specific needs of the working women they supported. The scenario was similar for Clara Zetkin, a German socialist activist and an advocate for women’s rights. She too held the opinion that women were not allowed to participate equally within the left. She presided over the Women’s Office of the Social Democratic party from 1907 onwards and she founded International Women’s Day in 1911, although she had been involved with the women’s movement in Germany since 1874. Becoming a cultural icon in the former German Democratic Republic, streets and parks bearing her name can still be found there.

And the women of the left are still fighting. Even within feminism, there are leftist movements: socialist feminism, Marxist feminism, labor/labour feminism. There is even a movement called transnational feminism, exploring how capitalism and the patriarchy intersect in order to exploit women.

I refer to The Left a lot in this article, although I don’t mean to suggest that everyone with a left-wing viewpoint is part of some homogeneous mass. What I generally mean when I use the term The Left is leftist activism and the platforms where this takes place. When I say “women struggle to find a platform in the left”, I mean that very few of today’s prominent socialist thinkers are women. That’s a problem. We’re not lacking in vocal socialist women because women don’t understand politics, nor is it because women are politically apathetic. In fact, we’re not lacking socialist women at all. Speaking as a feminist, I know what it’s like to get shouted down, on the internet and in real life. Therefore, I can confidently say that the issue is that so many men continue to exclude women from conversations about class or refuse to acknowledge sexist bias in their own actions.

This is not to suggest that we are somehow worse than the right (FYI: that’s not the case). But it is more hypocritical of us if we’re seeking equality of the classes whilst remaining blind to other struggles.

Let’s Get Critical

This will probably be a bit of a long’un, but Owen Jones’ post was no little’un either. It’s his fault. (It’s not, it’s not. It’s mine for having such long conversations with myself about the state of the left and then wanting to write them down.)

Also, I’ve called him “Owen” a lot in this, which is not very professional. Referring to him as simply “Jones” felt clunky and patronising, like I’m his Maths teacher.

Guardian columnist and political commentator Owen Jones published a blog post last month regarding the current turmoil within the Labour Party (which you can read here). The blog post you’re reading right now (significantly less articulate than his) was supposed to be published some weeks ago. The problem was: I kept changing it. In the end, I thought: “Eh, other people have tweeted him better responses in under 140 characters. Get over yourself, girl.” Yesterday, however, Owen treated us all to a video concerning the same issue, in a nice manageable eight-minute chunk, and I thought: Do it. Write it. Go on. Double donkey dare you.

The post (and the new accompanying video) simply asks Jeremy Corbyn supporters (Corbynites? Corbynions?) to consider nine questions concerning Corbyn’s next move and the next move of the Labour Party generally. These questions concerned policies, strategies to win over particular voting demographics (e.g. Conservative voters, over-44s) and also the party’s “vision” or ultimate goal.

Fair play, I thought. I’ve wondered that myself, and I even have a Corbyn shrine.

As for the fine folk of Twitter? Not so much. Their stance after the blog post’s release was more along the lines of “Blairite careerist sellout”. Which was rude. Funny, undoubtedly, but rude. As a result, my own response started off as a “Leave Owen Jones alone” petition, directed at the aforementioned barrage of irate Twitter users who took offense at the blog post on behalf of Jeremy Corbyn/Labour/Karl Marx’s pet goldfish.

Then this post mutated into a musing on how difficult it is to hold an even slightly controversial opinion in any movement. I’ve considered the whole fiasco (it was a bit of a fiasco) over the past month and came to the conclusion that, actually, I could empathise quite a bit with Owen (just without the powerful political mind, numerous television appearances, bestselling books and gorgeous cat*). The pressure to avoid divisive opinions is far from exclusive to the left, and I think about it a lot within the context of feminism. You might recognise my dilemma too. You see someone speaking out about feminism and you want to support them – you really, really do – but they’re just so problematic. You can’t say “No, you’re representative of neither me nor feminism”, because then that divides the movement and sets us against each other (in the same way that the Labour Party feels – and, to a large extent, is – divided right now). I always feel especially guilty having these thoughts if the public figure in question is a woman.

Furthermore, you can’t be left-wing and live in a bubble, just like I can’t be a feminist and do so. I can protest that I don’t want to dilute feminism and make it palatable to men and anti-feminists, but that’s really not very helpful.  To paraphrase Owen’s point about knocking on doors in the video: the whole point of a movement, political or social, is to persuade. Acknowledging and engaging with the people who don’t agree with you is never very fun, but, within the context of any kind of campaign or cause, it is necessary. There’s no point if all the people already on board are just going to stand around drinking squash and saying: “Well, I think Jezza Corbz is a top lad and I don’t give a rat’s arse if nobody else does.”

He is indeed a top lad, but Tories, the over-65 bracket, most of the (former) Shadow Cabinet and also my stepdad aren’t convinced. (Truthfully, my stepdad just does not like Corbyn. Thankfully, he likes Owen Smith, the alternative, even less.) Owen is totally right (not that he needs my approval); that’s definitely where we’re** going wrong. All his suggestions for how Labour ought to continue were justified and implementing them would meet the needs of the vulnerable people that Labour are meant to protect and would provide what others are seeking.

I’d add – if I were anywhere near qualified enough to comment – that, alongside support for older people, Labour should be encouraging a rethink regarding how the NHS budget (what little there is) is distributed. Mental health is still not given parity with physical health. I know it’s a cliche at this point, which disturbs me deeply. Many of my close friends and my relatives had or have mental health problems. Through their experiences and my own perspective as an ally to them, the lack of appropriate support and education is frankly bewildering. I remember Nick Clegg promising better mental health services when the coalition formed. Look how that one turned out. Don’t be the Lib Dems, Labour.

(As a side-note: it’d be nice if we could stop treating socialism like the plague too. I’d like to say I’m a leftie without getting either the pitying “sit down and shut up, you scrounger” look or the outraged “omg you think Stalin was right” glare. We are entirely too comfortable with the right and with capitalism. Not to be the Trot in the room, Britain, but “bourgeois” just isn’t a good look on you.)

Honestly, I’d love for the Labour Party to reaffirm everything I’ve come to love about it. I’m too young to remember a pre-Blair Labour. I remember writing to Tony Blair, not long before he was succeeded by Gordon Brown, and asking him to save the polar bears. I got a letter back – admittedly it was not personal correspondence from our disgraced former Prime Minister, but it was all very official nonetheless. It’s framed, lost somewhere up in our loft.

It struck me while writing this that a New Labour government, as it was under Blair and Brown, remains the only kind of Labour government I’ve ever known. That makes the flicker of hope in my heart all the more exciting. It started with Corbyn, on that day in September last year. I knew, listening to him and following his work, that this was the politician I’d waited for. The polar bear set-up is quite a good metaphor, actually, for the approach Owen Jones suggested in that fateful blog post. What we’re doing is not enough. We need a new strategy.

The polar ice caps are melting and there’s a good chance they’ll fracture and splinter. We can’t let them split, though, for the sake of the polar bears.

Blair and Brown never saved them. Cameron or May would probably shoot the poor things for sport.

Knock on some doors, Labour, and tell ’em what you’re about. Leave Twitter alone for two seconds. Minimum selfies, please.

And, maybe,  just maybe, you can save those bloody polar bears.


Notes:

* That’s actually a lie; I have two cats and they’re beautiful and flawless. But the rest still stands.

** “We”, she says with utter seriousness, as though she has ever done anything except give a Ukipper a stern and meaningful look in the street.

For more pure unadulterated Owen Jones, from concentrate, you can follow him on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook as @OwenJones84. He has a regular column in the Guardian and a YouTube channel. He is also (surprise, surprise) the author of two bestselling books, Chavs and The Establishment. They will make you angry, but you’ll be happy about the fact that you’re angry. Trust me.

Corbyn and the Coup: A Socialist Fairytale

Once upon a time, there was a far-away kingdom, alone on an island.

The kingdom’s rulers did not care much for their people and theirs was a world of bloodshed and betrayal, so the people relied upon a court of mages for guidance, led by an old wizard chosen by the people. He and the king sought to restore balance between them. (This is a magical democracy, children. Now shut tf up and listen.)

Of late, the kingdom had isolated itself further still. Their former king had abdicated. He was not the best king, but the alternative was much worse… and now it had come to pass. The king’s courtiers bickered and quarreled over who would take the throne, and the people looked to their royal wizards for comfort.

However, it seemed that the wizards had forgotten their code of magical honour. All of them, except for that wise old wizard. Although he was the people’s choice (Which? Magazine winner), the courtiers and other wizards had long mocked him for his unkempt beard and tattered robes. The truth was, the wise old wizard found no pleasure in expensive wands and fine garments. What he loved was good magic, done for the benefit of his people. He wanted to protect them and to ensure everyone got their share.

But their mockery was deeper and darker than that. The other wizards feared the new and different magic that the wise old wizard had, and they had only one solution: to overthrow him.

You’ve probably guessed by now, but I’m not actually talking about an old sorcerer, an absentee king and a wizardly code of honour.

I’m talking, of course, about the EU referendum and its consequences, namely the underhand, unfair campaign against the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn. I won’t pretend this “coup” – if you can call it that – is anything new. Ever since he became leader, there have been detractors and naysayers within the party itself. It’s been brewing in the cauldrons of the centre left (and if you think Corbyn is too far left, you probably shouldn’t be in the Labour Party) for quite some time; it’s just that the country is in convenient turmoil at present. Our prime minister has resigned, our government are battling it out for the top job, and nobody knows where to look for leadership or guidance. Those in the Labour Party who want Corbyn out have made their opinions known – opinions which have been ad hominem at best, downright character assassination at worst. This was an opportune moment to do so.

That’s what politics is about in this country at the moment: opportunity. That’s what we are to most politicians – us peasants, the serfs on their land – we are opportunities. They’re vultures, picking at the carcass of this country and squabbling over the last scraps of meat that remain. Jeremy Corbyn’s only crime was to see us for what we are. We are people who have already been taken advantage of. We are people who do not need any more cuts, any more austerity, any more lies.

Jeremy Corbyn is not, to the best of my knowledge, a liar. That’s the key difference between him and many other politicians I’ve seen. He does not mince his words, he does not avoid the question. He does not hide behind flashy cars and sharp suits and an Etonian education. He cycles, appeared on television in 1984 in a jumper knitted by his mother, and is the son of a maths teacher and an engineer. He has fought all his life to make the world a better place, often at great personal cost regarding his career. This is a man who has won awards for his human rights activism and he has openly opposed the Labour whip on several occasions. Precisely when kindness and compassion became radical qualities, I don’t know, but these are the things that have made him so popular among young people. He sticks it to the man, sure, but he does it in a way that is fair and just.

We should be ashamed of the bullying that has been perpetrated against Corbyn. He has been subjected to the most inane, the most insulting media depiction of recent times. He’s been a victim of biased media. We have all been victims of that same biased media. It’s unfair for people to label him uncharismatic or unelectable, when they’re the same people who would never give him a chance and gave him so little room to manouevre. He was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t.

5kfz7kn.gif

Even his side-eye does not discriminate. It sees all.

He is honourable. He is decent. He is principled.

Of course I’m a little predisposed to like him. His politics align very closely with my own, and he is the kind of person for whom I have always had the utmost respect. Regardless, I have been proud to call him our Leader of the Opposition, and I hope I can continue to refer to him as such.

Thank you, Jez. Whatever may happen in the coming months, thank you.

And to the wise old wizard on the lonely island: your good magic is strong enough. Keep the faith.