To the Finland Station

Or some random thoughts on the current plight of socialism-labourism.

The apparent demise of the left as we know it is tickling the fancy of commentators and activists alike. Is the left really dead or is it reinventing itself? Have communism, socialism, labour movements and all the worker centric ideologies disapparated for ever leaving a vacuum to be refilled or is this a moment for redefinition and adaptation to the needs of the modern voter?

What does it mean to be a leftist today? Is there any meaning left in the workers’ party? Does socialism still purport to provide answers to 21st century western civilisation? Have the people begun to ring the death bell of the politics based on the class and on exalting the role of the worker in society? Is socialism only about workers?

Questions would become poetry if we did not answer them. I am being purposely liberal with the definition of socialism. I am also being purposely restrictive by narrowing my considerations to ideologies that began with the working class. I consider myself as an outsider who has always been curiously interested by leftist policies from the outside. The closest I ever got was on the windowsill as I discovered the centre-left possibilities of Christian Democracy – not the apologist, conservative wing but the social-democrats with the added value of christian humanistic inspiration. And I could go on.. chain upon chain of -isms, -atics and -ocracies – enough to give a politologue a bad case of political indigestion.

There are more than a handful of people who have manifested more than a passing interest in the future role of the Labour Party in Malta. We have started to post and use blogs for chatting and comparing notes. IN doing so, we have begun to risk getting lost in definitions, counter-definitions and life-jackets thrown at the theories in the political handbooks. We risk being mired in the “workers”, the “revolutions”, the “classes”, the “anarchy”, “the progressive liberals” and so on and so forth.

Nostalgics of some missed era of socialism (didn’t we have enough of that?) will be pushing the case for a return to the roots that probably never were. Their vocabulary is alienating the wider audience. When they speak of alienation itself, of the weak and the oppressed, and of the abuse of the working masses they fail to understand that this kind of talk is only music to the ears of the fans of Guevara, the ideologists of handbook socialism and the ones who deep inside would love the fable of socialism to be tried one more time – maybe this time they will get it right. A bit like voting for Alfred Sant in 2008.

Then there are those who will pepper the red with a bit of green in the naive belief that this will suffice to “modernise” the message. Throw in a bit of Corporate Social Responsibility, a dash of Polluter Pays principle, a smother of bioethics and marinade the lot in a soup of Rights for Future Generations. It’s the New Socialist who will only eat from the bio section and probably cycle to work. Sorry guys. Been there done that. Romano Prodied it actually. And it’s not enough.

And now for the J’accuse rough notes

This is where my ideological bit comes in. We live in the 21st century and not the 18th. The alienation is no longer of the worker but of the citizen. Champions of the worker as conceived until 1989 will soon find that not many people assimilate with this idea. Of course there has been a huge bulk which thought they fall within that category because Alfred Sant said so but – and here’s the news…the moment you tell them that their material aspirations, their ideas of comfort, their mode of interaction with society – makes them more of individuals in the IT age than pure and simple opressed workers they’ll believe you. Probably because it is true.

New labour methinks should first define the basic building unit of its society. It should define the individual it wants to empower with its policies with its ideas. This idea of the 21st Century Maltese Citizen would be the building block of the new party. An individual empowered with freedoms, choice and with various tools with which he can fulfil his potential. A society that is prepared to let this individual achieve his aspirations by providing security, comfort and identity. The tools with which the individual can, out of his own choice engage in civic society will be the policies with which the New Labour can build its spinal base.

There cannot be such a building process if the party were to automatically focus on the disgruntled, the weak, and the oppressed worker. Put bluntly aspirations for a better society cannot be built on the idea of persons who think of themselves as losers in the game of life. The project should be realistically positive. The individual in a liberal society empowered with rights and restricted by obligations with the common good in mind can be this positive building block.

I’d have more to say but let me see what you guys think for now. In the meantime remember, it is not the nostalgia for the ideology that will help move things forward but practical and at times lateral thinking that will provide a basis for a functioning programme to put forward for the individual as an actor on the local, national, regional and international stage.

Yes we can.

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6 responses to “To the Finland Station

  1. From a strategic perspective, the Left must appeal to the masses if it is to be victorious. This fact is so simple, yet apparently so difficult to grasp by some who prefer to fight against windmills.

    This requires populist discourse and inclusive hegemonic politics, whereby the universal ideological vision of a more equal, just and sustainable society is synthesised with the particular aspirations of the people. The term ‘people’ has to be qualified. I am referring to us people as social agents whose multiple/fragmented identities are overdetermined by a plurality of criss-crossing factors such as class, occupation, gender, nationality, ethnicity, political/religious beliefs, age, lifestlye, etc… People, though influenced by dominant ideologies (e.g. consumerism, catholicism, political affiliation, family background and others in Malta) are also reflective, hence opening the possibilities for social change.

    A hegemonic politics also requires wide civil-society alliances, whereby the particular visions of each component is partially characterised by compromise under the banner of the universal whole.

    It is impossible to define what a ‘true’ left is, as there are so many interpretations and different types of parties and governments. As I see it, however, leftist ideology should embrace equality, social justice and ecological sustainability as core principles which differ from core principles of the right in its various forms (e.g. based around the individual in the market). Yet, the Left should also aim to appropriate other principles which the right has successfully appropriated, such as efficiency and security. Immigration is surely an issue which the Left has and is underestimating in political importance. The Left should also do away with rubbishing certain values just because they are ‘traditional’. Modernity and tradition are both present in a society characterised by uneven development.

    As regards MLP and AD in particular, I have written about them in my blog about them, so I want to avoid repetition.

  2. Thank you Mike. First of all let me apologise for the mass rambling in this post. It was a case of putting a number of ideas into a post rather than leave them swimming in my head.

    Having reread the post (for my sins) I think that the basic question I want to ask is:”What is the point of departure for the new redefined left?”.

    I have a hunch that hidden in the answers is the “admission” (if we want to call it that) that the left must abandon its worker-centric element and create a different foundation stone. My “individual” approach might turn out to mean -when elaborated – that the liberal strand of left ideology is developed into the mainstream and that the left becomes a champion of the individual’s progress (or struggle) in society.

    The value of the individual and his place in society could be the basic imprint of a set of values that spans environmental, sociological and cultural aspirations. That translates, if I am not mistaken, into a “hegemoic politics” you speak of. It is based in the awareness of a changing society balanced with the recognition and preservation of “tradition”. It may sound opportunistic but I believe that by responding to the needs of the individual in today’s society based on the idea of empowering his potential you may have the key to a policy that can be “victorious”.

    By the way, allow me the tongue in cheek comment, that stating that “the Left must appeal to the masses if it must be victorious” is quite a tautological statement. I do hope that the interest in developing an effective ideological direction implies that this is one that appeals to the masses – because if the intention is not to serve the masses needs it is counter-productive and useless.

  3. I understand that this debate focuses on the crises of the left in malta. I was about to ramble on when suddenly I realised that such ruminations may not have too much relevance if not seen within the context of the ‘victorious’ right . The left in malta is vanquished and needs to rediscover itself. To do that should we not first discuss the nature of the ‘right wing’ that defeated the left? if the left aspires to govern, it must have a clear vision as to how it can be better than the current victor, hence the left may need to understand the right wing of maltese politics before it embarks on the task of reinventing itself within the context of society’s psyche … i’m just thinking aloud…

  4. David Friggieri

    This is an interesting discussion, certainly and the MLP would do well to tap into the debate, take it seriously and have a real rethink about these matters before it embarks on any new ’15 year project’. However, in my view you have to look at reality in the face: almost half the electorate continued to vote for Labour throughout the past 20-odd years. Almost half of those who make up the Maltese ‘masses’ (as you call them) were attracted by Labour. In Malta it’s the floaters that count: a relatively small, but growing, secor of the population. And my feeling is that the question they asked themselves throughout these years was: Can I trust Sant and co not to make a mess of things? It’s as simple as that.

  5. the left/right concept has blurred into a pragmatic philosophy by both right and left and it now all boils down to the prime concerns of the ordinary citizen as much as the prime aspirations. While Government seeks to provide security to each individual (now is not the safe pair of hands as leftist as the NHS? 🙂 ) and tickles their aspirations e.g. the embarrassing queue for broadband applications, the opposition needs to do 2 things: 1. become a reliable institution that can carry responsibly the needs of all sectors of society, not least the business community, 2. time a dream for each sector that peaks at election time. I do not think that the left/right debate applies to malta. Our politics are dictated by a thin layer of old azzjoni kattolika logic underpinned by an unbridled DIY libertarian culture that has now gone beyond a desire to have basic structures. Divorce? it is not an issue anymore because those who separate and sit lol find it so convenient that they do not even consider the re-marriage option…A truly left agenda will unfortunately be needed should our financial bottom give way…than we will need to come together to rebuild like a post-war experience… in the meantime its all to their own … this is best reflected in the floater misconception…Maltese Society refers to a floater as one who is a free-thinker, principled etc. There are a few floaters who fit the description yet to my mind the majority of floaters are the worst sort you will have the misfortune to meet.

  6. Tazebao Caretaker

    “Hi, interesting blog you have here. Was passing through and I thought I would pop in to say howdi neighbour! I’m Jennifer Galea from Labour in labour, the independent and unauthorised blog documenting the Labour Party’s quest for a new leader. Come and visit us on http://www.labourinlabour.wordpress.com and lets us know what you think…openly and sincerely! See you soon!”
    J’ACCUSE NOTE TO JENNIFER: Copying and pasting the same note into different comments on different blogs is not good neighbour practise in blogland. It’s called spamming. Most spams do start with “Hi interesting blog etc etc and end up with offers to sell viagra…. we’re happy with the Tazebao … a bit less with this spamming business…

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