World (NI) – Don’t just think of it as a dirty word, says Richard Swift; a genuine populism of the Left is long overdue. Populism sure is getting bad reviews. All manner of evil is getting laid at its door: racism, xenophobia,…
We are entering a new utopian age. That may seem counterintuitive to suggest as the most right wing government since Thatcher leads the UK into a bleak post Brexit future, Trump prepares to enter the White House flanked by a team of white supremacists in the US, and the far right finds itself in ascendency across Europe, but it is happening.
Signs that a new utopian era is emerging can be read in the way we encounter these events as impossible: Brexit; Trump winning the Republican candidacy, and going on to defeat Clinton in the US presidential elections; even Jeremy Corbyn’s victory in the Labour leadership contest. These all represent realities we collectively refused to conceive of as possible, until we awoke the next morning to find ourselves living them.
Impossibility, of course, is the territory of utopia.
Sanders intended on starting a political revolution, and he succeeded beyond his wildest dreams – they are continuing on without him. Behind this unrest, not just on the Left, but the Right as well, is a sense that the political machine is rigged in the favor of the capitalist class – the rich. This is something that seems to be almost an intuition, something that was felt by everyone I spoke with. The rise of the Internet and independent media, as well as the obvious crumbling of the system as a whole, has pulled back the curtain and the machinery has been revealed. In a time when the young are facing crippling debt with few job opportunities, when technology has allowed everyone to see the discrimination and brutality that people of color face in their communities in real time, when the prisons are owned and operated by private entities seeking to incarcerate for profit, when the entire world seems to be at war with itself, and when the planet is spiraling rapidly into an unfixable cycle of climate change, the only answer many seem to have is to embrace any potential, any real change. Not ideology; desperation – a sense, right or wrong, that this could be the last chance, and they seem motivated to seize it.
The European left can’t catch a break. There is more sad news from Spain. After the December 2015 elections shattered the traditional two-party system, and six months of failed negotiations detonated a call for re-elections, the new left coalition, Unidos Podemos, has failed to meet the number of seats that all polls had lined up for them. Last night, Pablo Iglesias’s plan to ‘take the heavens by storm’ has suffered a major setback since Podemos’s meteoric rise began two years ago.
1. Great expectations, mediocre results.
The polls didn’t even get the voter turnout right, which remained higher than assumed (69%). But the real problem came in estimating the vote transfers of left-wing voters.
For weeks, polls were suggesting a low mobilisation of centre-ground parties and a sharp polarisation on both ends of the ideological spectrum. The 7.30pm exit polls confirmed these expectations and projected a whopping 95 seats for Unidos Podemos (up from a combined 71 in December), overtaking centre-left rival PSOE (the party of old social democracy) – the main objective of these re-elections. Three hours later, as results started coming in, this didn’t happen: Unidos Podemos had stagnated at 71 seats and lost over a million votes. Against all odds, PSOE has somehow resisted the encroachment of the anti-austerity radicals and defended the throne of the parliamentary left.