Thursday, 1 January 2015

Reaching for the Future

Reaching for the Future - Glasgow, Saturday 13 September 2014
(author's photo)
January is named after the Roman deity Janus, god of endings and beginnings. And so on this first day of January, I thought I'd look back a little at the last year and forward into what promise to be, in the words of the ancient curse, "interesting times".

2014 opened with a sense of foreboding for many progressives - not least because of the challenges that lay ahead in a Europe littered with discredited "mainstream" governments unpopular with demoralised, austerity-abused publics. The far right was on the rise in election after election; even in Britain, although the extremist BNP was largely gone, the UK Independence Party, lampooned by some as fascists-in-suits and certainly adopting a range of beggar-thy-neighbour tactics in its divisive politics, seemed to be gaining ground with the endless encouragement of the media.

Into this stew, the Conservative-led Coalition Government proclaimed 2014 to be the time to "celebrate" the appalling war of 1914 - 1918. The then-Education Secretary, Michael Gove, proclaimed the conflict to have been a "noble" war seen as "just" by those fighting it. "In Remembrance of Lions" charts the arguments around this - the war was far from the narrative of thse armchair "warriors". At the close of the year, with the likes of Sainburys supermarkets invoking its memory to boost their Christmas sales, my closing blog, "Piping the Peace", sought to expand on the well-known story of the 1914 Christmas Truce to explore how a bitter hatred of a war that was widely held even at the time to be nothing but a power-play between competing elites led to the greatest challenge to authority by ordinary people in all of history.

The parallels between now and then have been constant through the year - and not in the superficial way desired by the likes of Gove and Cameron. The disconnect between rulers and ruled, now as then, is widening as the days pass. In a country where political leaders on the one hand continue to worsen climate change through approving massive expansion of fracking ("Inside the Mind of Ed Davey") ("No Wind Turbines to Spoil the View"), in spite of the evidence of global warming causing flooding across Britain ("When Only the Wellies are Green" ) and the slaughter of over 29,000 Britons every year from pollution-related illnesses ("Take Your Breath Away"), it is little wonder people look for other solutions. This is all the more compounded when the Establishment continue to fall back on scapegoating vulnerable groups such as disabled and unemployed people ("Choosing Poverty"), ("Having a Heart Attack? You Shirker...") while subsidising their rich friends to run public services ("The Coalition of Kleptocracy" ) and making it ever easier for them to hire and fire workers at will ("You're Fired!"). Even the one remaining, highly profitable and popular state railway company, East Coast, has been sold off to private speculators ("Keep East Coast Public") and the NHS, the most successful health service in the world, is being auctioned off piecemeal ("999 for the NHS"), a situation likely to be embedded if the Government's enthusiasm for the TransAtlantic Trade & Investment Partnership is allowed to come to fruition ("Death-Wish Lib Dems"). In response to the disaffection that inevitably has followed, all our current leaders seem capable of coming up with is surreptitious "reforms" to disenfranchise likely opponents, especially younger people ("Bite The Ballot") or threaten to deploy violence in the name of keeping order ("Water Cannon: Doing What It Says On The Tin").

As with the tumult of decades ago, first trailed back in December 2012 ("Weimar Britain"), the void deserted by mainstream politics offers up a variety of opportunities for change - some giving a glimpse of a far happier world, but others giving instead visions of a nightmare future. For myself, much of the first half of 2014 was given up to work as Campaign Manager for the Green Party European election effort in Yorkshire and the the Humber. As with Greens across the country and indeed throughout the EU, we faced a situation where much media attention was focused not on our ideas for a fairer and more sustainable world ("Neither Nick nor Nigel for the Common Good"), but rather on the prospects for rightwing "insurgents" like UKIP in Britain ("Still Nothing Worth Watching... UKIP TV")and the FN in France. In the end, while the Greens polled ahead of the Lib Dems in both votes and seats, UKIP won the election in the UK with just under 27% of the vote and in Yorkshire took 3 of the 6 seats (with barely one-third of the vote) and elsewhere other rightwing parties performed strongly on anti-immigrant, xenophobic platforms.

Echoes of the past sent a chill down the spine of many on the Left, all too aware as we are of where such visceral hatreds ultimately lead ("Don't Let The Lights Be Dimmed"). For the first time since the 1990s, Europe has been the scene of fighting, with conflict in the Ukraine ("Khrushchev's Crimea") ("Balkan Echoes"). Further afield, terror spread with the assault on Gaza by far superior Israeli forces and the kidnapping of women in west Africa by the Islamist Boko Haram ("Bloody Brothers") while self-centred western and Saudi interference in Syria led to the rise of Islamic State in the Middle East. However, in this last instance, women are a key part of the counter-attack in Kurdish areas, forming a third of the Rojavan army that is driving the slavers of ISIS back ("Sisters in Arms - Kobane, Kurdistan and Women Against ISIS").

Nevertheless, more optimistic vistas appeared as the year wore on: in Scotland, the independence referendum galvanised hundreds of thousands of people into unprecedented levels of political activity. Although a remarkably positive campaign for a separate Scotland ultimately failed under a barrage of vitriol and neoliberal State Power ("Scotland - Trust The Bankers"), the YES vote reached an unimagined 45% and tens of thousands of Scots joined up to the three pro-independence parties (the SNP, Scottish Greens and Scottish Socialists). Support for the SNP in particular has soared with the prospect now of former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond potentially brokering who will form the next UK-wide Government. Both in Scotland and more widely, the power evidently wielded by ordinary people in search of social justice rather than the cold hostility at the heart of the UKIP and Tory agendas has found new outlets which promise that things really never will be the same again ("The Last Days of the United Kingdom"). The 999 for the NHS March, Occupy Westminster Green and the Britain Needs A Payrise protests all showed how large numbers of citizens, many previously not involved politically, are now rising to make themselves heard and call for real change.

As the summer moved to autumn, UKIP continued to poll well, but now so did the Green Party throughout Britain, in spite of a much lower level of media attention. By the end of the year, its membership matched UKIP's and its poll ratings had on numerous occasions overtaken the collapsing Lib Dem wing of the Coalition - the final Ipsos-Mori survey of the year put UKIP on 13% of the vote with the Greens just behind on 10% and the Lib Dems on 9%.

In spite of this and a petition from over a quarter of a million people, the Establishment closed ranks to exclude the Greens (and the SNP) from the leaders' debates in the upcoming General Election ("#fairdebate2015"). Yet, given what is at stake if any truly insurgent party challenging the power of Big Money and the Establishment breaks through, it is little surprise that something like UKIP would be employed and promoted as a sort of "licenced" opposition, a bit like the state-sponsored "opposition" parties in Putin's Russia ("The Men in Grey"). (Separately, I wrote a piece for the online Scottish socialist magazine "The Point" on the origins of the Union of 1707, "The Whales of Kirkcaldy", which, while providing me with some fascinating reading, pointed up just how corrupt and brutal Establishments can be in seeking to secure their self-interest and preservation). Smug in its belief of its own right to power, our political class continues to believe that it can get away with a pretence of democracy ("Seeing Through the Illusion of Choice") But, as with others who have thought this would work in the past, their days may now be numbered ("1905 Again").

Of course, for change to come, we must know what the alternatives are; how might a new world work; how can we found a society based on co-operation when all around us is a world formed of conflict and competition? How can we fashion a place where we might find happy people, content with their lives, living in harmony with other species and the biosphere that lets us exist?

It was to this end that it was good to spend time towards the end of the year looking at the history and development of ecosocialism - the green socialist ideas that offer some ways forward to a world where we value sharing rather than accumulation; where we put back what we take out so that our own and future generations will have the resources to thrive; where we learn to live by the idea of "enough" rather than pursuing the illusion of happiness being found in ever "more".

"Stories of Tomorrow - Ecosocialism and The World To Come" came from a talk I gave as part of a debate on ecosocialism. And for me it was an encouraging way to draw the year to an end. A look  forward to what could be if we have the imagination and courage. A way to a very different world, but one which harnesses the co-operative spirit and compassion which are inherent to our species. These are natural human qualities, but ones long twisted and denied by our socio-economic systems, from slavery through feudalism to capitalism. As capitalism stumbles, flailing dangerously in a world of diminishing resources and global warming, only the ever more tenuous and tiny layer at the top stands to benefit from its continuation - a miniscule elite numbering at most a few hundred thousand people ("On The Big Red Bus To Oblivion") while several billions hunger and our entire planet suffers. Humanity can do so very much better than this.

Most of history is neither a beginning nor an end - days simply follow days. Although 2014 is now over, the events that traced its course seem to offer no conclusion and only a vague sense of direction. Still, in the haze and confusion, perhaps some signposts are now dimly perceptible and while the journey is far from ended, in 2015 the time of transition is perhaps that little bit closer.

Another world is possible; and, if we want it enough, it is coming.

Happy New Year and, as this blog approaches its first quarter of a million views, thank you for reading.

Reaching for the Future - Wakefield, Sunday 24th August
(author's photo)

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