Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Socialism or Barbarism

People used to claim that rich countries don't have revolutions. But 2016 is proving they don't have to. Instead the angry and embittered can go to the polls and vote for some mutant excrescence of the ruling class to do the job for them.

We on the left used to say that liberal democracies were impervious to radicalism. They were almost sublime in their representative capacity, their fathomless adaptability, their underlying coercive power. Then suddenly the right did what we could never do: they overturned the system. And just to prove how easy it is, they did it with an overripe, talking pumpkin with a history of catastrophic failure.

There will be weeks of analysis about two things - who voted and why we didn't know about them in advance. There will be a sort of half curious, half repulsed prodding and probing of US society. Those who got it wrong - basically everyone except Trump voters, who knew what they wanted and simply did it - will embark on a tortuous period of self-analysis. 

What can be said already is that polling fails not because we don't have the right psephological model, not the right method of capture or mode of data analysis. Even now there will be dataheads harping on about this. The real problem is one of political representation. Our polls are failing because we don't understand the political coalitions being built and we don't register the scale of those coalitions. Our polls get all the demographics and none of the politics. We didn't see it coming because of the famous "enthusiasm" gap. But what really is enthusiasm in the political sense but the feeling of collective determination when embarking on a project that you know will change the world?

Here's why Clinton lost: she and her half of America had no all-encompassing sense of collective purpose. Shades of it perhaps - in the will to beat Trump. In the will not to lose the scant social progress achieved under Obama. But political subjects are quilted into being around unifying projects, slogans and leading figures. Where were Hillary's? 

But all of that is unfair to Hillary, who is an established politician of the first order who evinces unparalleled skill and competence. But nothing more. She is no better or worse than other mainstream politicians. This loss is not really hers but the entire political class's. Except insofar as it's a clearly sexist vote, which it is, Hillary faired no worse than any other Democratic establishment figure would have. 

To those who say simply "shoulda been Bernie" - imagine the media and market meltdown that would have greeted his candidacy and the contest between Bernie and Trump. Imagine the sabotage by Democratic elites. Imagine the nosedive in the dollar weeks before the election. His victory against Trump would by no means have been a foregone conclusion. There would have to be an inspiring mass movements for Bernie to have won. Bernie might have been better than Hillary but we can't know. There will be time for political analysis and it will no doubt come most effectively from heartbroken Hillary supporters themselves. Right now the latter need our love and solidarity.

In the weeks ahead we will need effective opposition to Trump. The key word being effective. That will involve careful consideration of political options. It will involve talking to people who voted Trump and to those who didn't vote Clinton. It will involve imagining a world after Trump. Without those imaginings we will lose again.

The world imagine by the left can't just be a repeat of the Obama years. It will lose if it continues to promise a weak defence of welfare with some moderate progress on social inclusion. We need to imagine a world turned upside down, a world beyond the market and beyond the necessity of electing rich white men to defend us from other rich white men. We will imagine a world where the people at the bottom - the pissed of, the dejected, the poor, the struggling - don't have to elect a grotesque caricature of those who already rule them. Instead they will take power for themselves. We will imagine a world of hope and dignity based on democratic participation in all of the institutions that shape our lives, from work to local government to the highest offices of state. If we don't, we will get eight years and more of Trumpism. Don't expect Trump's victory to exhaust itself, because social sadism has no natural point of exhaustion. It feeds off despair. Hope and dignity must become our alternative watchwords.

I used to snigger inwardly at the old leftist slogan "socialism or barbarism." Surely irrelevant to today's tolerant, liberal order. That order is dead. Liberal capitalism is dead. And the new barbarism is rising in its place. In the struggles ahead it will be incumbent on all who wish to live in a decent world to decide. Which side are you on?

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