Politics, for several decades, seemed to be a world where the concept of the squeaky wheel getting the grease was not only unrealistic in a party system, but almost anathema to most voters. We liked to know where our parties fell on the political spectrum and come to expect that when election platforms were rolled out, we’d not be surprised or shocked, but happy to maintain the status quo with minor tweaks.
But politics is like an experiment in fluid dynamics. While the world is at war, we’d rather worry about survival than major evolutionary shifts in our political systems. We have channeled our politics into smooth-running tracks that never diverge from the mainstream. The right had always had its far right and the left had always had its far left, but neither were allowed into the game for fear of breaching established channels.
This practice of occupying the shifting middle has never been great for diversity of thought, however. It gets governments through some tough times and can help to slow the ship, but not really steer it. It also disenfranchises many exciting social groups and ideas that are never given consideration as they don’t fit into the narrow wedge that occupies the electable left and right.
Progressives hearken back to days when traditional right wing values were often further left that most centrist parties today. Much of Bill Davis’ platform of the 1970s would have been considered verging on social democrat tenets; it was a time when some aspect of the public good was a stalwart ideal, even in conservative parties.
In a fractured movement that was born largely out of the United States, far right voices started to consolidate in groups that were no longer isolated from political parties, but acted like a virus within the parties themselves. Often borne of a single issue like the National Rifle Association or Americans for Tax Reform, these groups found like-minded thinkers through the evolution of web connectivity and learning the effectiveness of wedge-issue politics to drive a membership base.
They were bold, brash, politically incorrect, and unapologetically passionate about their issue to their followers. They didn’t need to coddle to a broad-based party platform, but instead could get granular and focus lobbying efforts to the point of swinging entire parties.
Their successes rest on one basic premise that has nothing to do with the validity of their cause or the money behind it: they are bucking the trend of political parties and traditional politicians who play diplomacy over safe opposition.
Elements of change are finally starting to sprout in noticeable pockets of left-wing politics. Finally, the left is learning the lessons of being unapologetic.
There’s no small coincidence that the burgeoning affection for a more forthright style in politics is accompanied by the age of the web, where oceans of information can only be offset by something which stands out against the wallpaper that frames it.
Kshama Sawant, a City Councillor in Seattle, openly ran as a socialist candidate and helped to usher in a $15 minimum wage in that city while being arrested at an airport protest during
Jeremy Corbyn used a groundswell of party faithful and new, young party members to move from being a fringe candidate to becoming the leader of a centrist Labour Party in the United Kingdom. This while supporting anti-austerity budgets, clamping down on corporate tax loopholes, renationalization of utilities and railways, abolishing university tuition and sitting as the national chair of the Stop the War Coalition.
It’s little wonder self-described socialist Bernie Sanders is making waves in a US Democratic Party primary season where most money, union, and corporate support is going to Hillary Clinton. In a US system where Sanders shouldn’t have a chance, he seems to stick around and gain new followers at every whistle stop.
Rachel Notley had a caucus of four Alberta NDP members going into the 2015 provincial election. With no reasonable or rational chance of winning, she could afford to be unapologetically left in proposals to end the flat tax in Alberta, end corporate and union donations in provincial elections, raise taxes on large corporations and high income earners, and cap emissions from the oil sands. She currently leads a 54 member majority caucus in a province that had been Conservative for 44 years.
We are, in Canada, seemingly plagued by so-called centrists that have been slouching towards the right over the past few decades. Our hopes for true left-wing socialist, or even social democrat government seems more often hampered by our left-wing parties trying to centre themselves in elections. Such platforms are not often failures of policy however. Progressive stances still form the base for all left-wing platforms. The sales pitch is tragically lacking.
There is no hope for the left in politicians who are scared of self-identifying as left.
There have been enough camouflage words like “progressive” and “democrat” over the past century to obfuscate the simple fact that many of us are socialists in a world that demonized the term during the Cold War. In the same way that equity seeking groups have a practice of taking back words and terms that were once used in derogatory slurs, unionists and people who believe in collective change for the betterment of all must do the same.
We should be wary of leaders of the left who cower at accusations of being “socialist” and try to divert to being “progressive,” “democrat,” or “social democrat.” The leaders who are making change and affecting politics today, when accused of being socialist are saying “You’re damn right I’m socialist, and if you’re living in this society with me, why the hell aren’t you?”
When the right-wing craved decisiveness and authenticity, there were those whose conviction for the romanticized Libertarian provided inspiration to even centrists begging for something that seemed authentic in a sea of political wrangling.
The Left needs to stop apologizing for being leftist even if it means not fitting into the safety of the centrist cocoon. It’s no longer acceptable to have left-wing leaders who try to sell the Left as centrist. The only future of left-wing parties and leaders, who desperately dance the line of the centrist vortex in hopes of being electable, is to stop apologizing for being who
It’s not about winning an election. It’s about being able to hold your head up when walking out of one and say that we’re ready for the next.