“Young, ‘sexy socialists’ are also pushing Marxism back into the student mainstream,” wrote Samuel Fishwick for the London Evening Standard in May 2017. Yes, socialism is back on the map and it is no longer a dirty word. But when was its downfall?
Since the Second World War, there have been a few major things that have happened in the world of socialism. Following the Allied victory in the Second World War, British soldiers returned home eager for change. They didn’t want to go back to how it was before the war, which was in all honesty very miserable. So, they voted for change.
Clement Attlee, a short, balding and quiet man, was standing as the Labour candidate for prime minister. He was standing against the victorious and larger-than-life statesman Winston Churchill. Following several rallies around the country from both politicians, Labour won with a landslide. Everyone was shocked that the war icon had lost.
During this government, Labour established the National Health Service, which today stands as a beacon for socialists all over the world. Universal health care had been established in the country that, 150 years earlier, gave birth to the Industrial Revolution. Socialism was alive in the heartlands of capitalism. Throughout Europe, social democratic parties became popular following the Second World War.
Between 1945 and the early 2000’s, social democratic parties would be a main feature in most countries’ governments or oppositions. In the Scandinavian countries, a form of social democracy had already been established and started changing society to be more harmonious. This is now established in their culture.
However, these parties are not perfect, and some of these countries are currently going through a difficult time, as they are faced with a backlash from citizens about the amount of immigration in recent years. In the rest of Europe, many social democratic parties established free health care and a form of welfare state. Progress swept through Europe and standards became established with the rise of the European Union and the fall of the Soviet bloc in Eastern Europe. Then it lost its appeal.
After making all of this progress, some social democratic parties in Central Europe lost their way. They became very centrist and had little to do with socialism. Many were socialist in name, but really they were turning towards capitalism and away from their origins. Neoliberal capitalism was just accepted as the norm for many politicians now. They were just more generous than their counterparts on the centre-right when it came to providing for citizens.
Some believe politics moved to the centre due to the liberal nature of the European Union, and politics in general became very mundane. The fall of the Soviet Union also gave socialism a bad name. Many associated communism with socialism and saw the failing of one as a failing of both. Capitalism was in its heyday and became accepted as the norm.
By the late 1990s, there was little to distinguish between left and right parties in most countries. Politics became a career, not a chance to represent your community. Career politicians were everywhere, and many were not from working-class backgrounds. Many politicians, on both the left and the right, had backgrounds as lawyers, bankers or advisors to older politicians – hardly representative of the general population.
Distrust of politicians grew, and even more so after the 2008 financial crash and a series of corruption scandals involving politicians all over the world. Then things changed with Brexit. The election of Jeremy Corbyn and the rise of the far right may have happened before Brexit, but the split of the left and right since then has shown one thing, career politicians don’t have the answer. The British public are walking into a neoliberal abyss where we will become subjects of our own invention: capitalism.
Hopefully, we will not fulfil Marx’s prophecy: “The English have all the material requisites for the revolution. What they lack is the spirit of generalization and revolutionary ardour.” Part of this message rings true: we do have the means not only to revolutionise our own country, but also to set an example for other capitalist societies. Britain is not the country it once was; it lost its empire after the Second World War and has lost its reputation for pragmatism since Brexit.
A social revolution is the only way that Britain can be saved from itself. Voting Labour is a first step in the right direction, as they are the only political party adopting a different approach. The right one. Hopefully, the socialist drive in Britain will maintain its momentum and change the materialistic nature of society that currently holds it to ransom. But even if a newly elected Labour Party does overcome the huge chasm that is Brexit, it will certainly have a fight on its hands with the establishment, the liberal and political elites, the banks, the media and the rising far right.
This extract is from my book Basic Socialism: Why Socialism is Sexy Now. You can get it here