What’s the Story to Get to a Better Society?

News from Nowhere new coverI wanted to write something else about the EU referendum – or rather about one aspect of the consequences now unfolding at dizzying speed. How, though, to make that relevant to the focus of this blog? Well, when you stand back to look at what’s happening, it seems like science fiction.

Imagine you included it all in a synopsis for a novel. The UK leaves the European Union. Scotland breaks away to become independent. The pound and the stock market go into freefall and the UK loses its credit rating. The Prime Minister resigns and the ruling party falls into the hands of a pair of dodgy right-wing journalists. The Shadow Cabinet self-destructs and the Leader of the Opposition is jeered in Parliament by his own MPs while crowds of people outside the building chant in support of him. There is abuse and attacks against foreigners in the streets. A young MP is murdered by a fascist lunatic. Far-right parties across Europe are clamouring for their countries to leave the EU too. The Islamist terrorists rub their hands in delight. Meanwhile hordes of homeless people continue to flee across the continent from never-ending wars in the Middle East.

‘It seems a bit far-fetched,’ your agent says. ‘A bit too ambitious. Why not focus the plot on just one of these elements. There’d then be a clearer sense of the central conflict and the story would be more relatable.’

Life isn’t like that. It’s a vast network of complexity in which every element connects to every other. But let me pick out one element to comment on. What’s happening in the Labour Party.

There seems to be almost a consensus that the impulse to vote Leave wasn’t just about the EU. It was an expression of discontent with mainstream politics, the politics of the centre. When the centre collapses, you get a polarising momentum towards both the left and the right. That’s what happened in Germany in the 1930s: both the Communists and the Nazis grew in strength, but the Nazis had the edge; they took power via the ballot box and then terminated democracy. The recent economic crisis in Greece produced a similar dynamic with a different outcome: the centre-left collapsed, yielding the rise of both the neo-nazi Golden Dawn and the radical-left SYRIZA. But the Greek left had learnt the hard way, in the Civil War of the 1940s, that the politics of violence produces only ruination and barbarity. During the right-wing dictatorship of the 1960s the left-wing resistance did not resort to violence. In the recent crisis the radical left gained strength through a grassroots movement, committed to peace, social justice, and ecology, that brought them to government last year.

The political system of Greece made it possible for a new radical-left party to emerge out of nowhere and replace the centre-left PASOK (equivalent of the Labour Party). The British political system makes it more difficult for new parties to get anywhere near government, witness the experience of the Greens. What I think we’re seeing in the present convulsions of the Labour Party is an attempt of a radical-left movement, akin to SYRIZA, to replace the centre-left from the inside. If it succeeds, and Jeremy Corbyn and his followers manage to connect with the British people’s disenchantment with the centre, then we have the possibility of a radical-left government. It will be against the odds, though, because the political centre of gravity is further to the right than in Greece and the British press is emphatically skewed towards the right.

Most utopian novels fail to show how their idealised society came into being, and the maintenance of that society usually involves some form of coercion more suggestive of dystopia than utopia. The big exception is William Morris’s News from Nowhere: a vision of the early 21st century imagined from the standpoint of 1890. The radical-left society he depicts is not coerced; it is emergent from the majority of the population having learnt that their best interests, their quality of life, are served by behaving cooperatively and generously towards others. Morris does include a back story of the steps by which this society came into being. Unfortunately, these involve a revolutionary civil war. Although Morris himself renounced violence in the socialist cause, he couldn’t imagine that those with vested interests in the status quo would give up without a fight. We who live in the time that Morris hoped would be utopian will have to imagine harder.

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2 Responses to What’s the Story to Get to a Better Society?

  1. Richard Selby says:

    Well said


  2. Diana Durham says:

    Having lived in the US for the past 20 years, I put a different spin on
    the current fracas in the UK. I do not consider that you have had pollitics of the center, but of the far right, or, more accurately, politics that serve the interests of the corporate and banking agenda alone. And that you have grown so used to them, that the issues Corbyn speaks to sound radical, when in fact they are not. And this is the most corrosive – because unnoticed – import to Britain from America.

    From the junk bonds, leveraged buyouts and insider trading of the 90’s, to the deregulation of markets and banks, to the excesses and collapse of companies like Enron, Worldcom, Tyco and a string of others, to the criminality of investment bankers, Goldman Sachs at their forefront, packaging up toxic mortgages, selling them to their clients, and betting against their collapse, to the bail out of the banks by the government, and the subsequent refusal of those banks to give credit or help beleaguered house-owners, and finally Citizens United and the creation of Superpacs to buy the Presidential election, the situation has been almost beyond anyone’s ability to sum up, to take in. Added to which, the Bush apparatchiks cheated their way into power in 2000, ushering in the NeoCons, who wanted to flex America’s muscles in the world once again, contemplated unilateral military action, and coveted access to oil reserves in the Caspian Sea, and the Middle East. Perhaps most astonishing of all – but still ignored by that mainstream media you mention – the causes of 9/11 are now seriously in question. It is quite obvious from watching Building 7 come down, and listening to and reading construction and demolition experts, that it was brought down with explosives, which would have taken several weeks, perhaps longer, to set. Similarly, the Trade Towers would not have exploded and tumbled from the impact of aeroplanes flying in to them. Add those facts to many other anomalies, and it becomes clear that the official version of the story does not hold up and that very likely government and security agencies were complicit.

    Yet despite all of these injustices and outrages happening in plain sight, nothing has been done, nothing has shifted. The lobbyists
    and moneymen remain pulling the strings. The problem is that there has been no fall out, no chaos!

    British politicians, not savvy enough to understand what is happening, took on these values and madnesses, famously by
    Blair backing Bush, and by an over-dependence on the financial sector to generate wealth, and the failure to invest in technology, industry and training, which has added to the polarization between
    rich and poor.

    Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders are virtually the only voices in
    positions of leadership who say any of this stuff.

    My hope is that events will lead to a new slate of leaders in both parties and a new slate of policies and values.


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