In Ontario another election season is at hand. A provincial election seems likely and municipal elections are occurring province wide. We have a bizarre situation where the Liberals are forcing the NDP to shift “left” on a number of issues like the minimum wage and now possible taxes, where “left wing” candidates for mayor in Toronto feel the need to couch policies in fundamentally reactionary anti-tax rhetoric, and where even what would a generation ago have been perceived as mildly social democratic notions like living wages, the idea of direct government intervention in the economy, new universal social programs or a comprehensive tax program to fund critically socially significant initiatives like transit, are now seen as incredibly “radical” and as hurting the “left’s” chances of “winning.”
But winning what, exactly?
After 25 years of constant retreat one might imagine that the left might think a new strategy is in order. Despite all the concessions to “reality” or doing what it supposedly takes to get elected, where are we? Does anyone seriously believe that we are better off than when we had an actual socialist political force in the country that advocated for demonstrably interventionist and meaningful social and economic policies?
We are in a society where poverty and inequality are at levels unparalleled in decades and where any possible or obvious solutions to deal with this are deemed to be fanciful or unrealistic. Often they are presented as if they are simply intellectual exercises that are encumbrances to supposedly “realistic” agendas aimed at making “practical change.” Agendas floated by very well compensated elected politicians who, it would seem, equate what is beneficial to their careers with what is socially progressive or with what constitutes a “progressive” agenda.
The very idea of socialism has been framed as some kind of intellectual exercise that “academics” indulge in while the elected “realists” are out there getting results that never really seem to happen. “Radical” ideas are portrayed as little more than hopeless ideals that we know would be positive, but that we don’t really think there is anything we can do about.
Often leftists are told in condescending ways that we have to live in the “real world.”
But here is the thing. Making this political choice to get elected, and it is a choice, does have real world consequences.
When we toss aside our commitment to the idea of a society based on equality and social justice, when we abandon calling for an end to capitalism, it is not just abandoning an intellectual construct. There are direct results that are not in anyway an abstraction.
Real people in the real world are suffering, living in or living on the edge of poverty, and facing grotesque exploitation directly due to corporations and the capitulation of the liberal left to the basic ideas of the right.
The new universal mantras of “tax relief” and “fiscal conservatism” or “responsibility” embraced by “progressives” have real world consequences that are not slogans, not ideological, but fact.
The fact is that poverty kills people and renders the idea of equality of opportunity a joke.
The fact is that millions of people are forced to work for wages that they cannot live on without assistance.
The fact is that social assistance rates are not just inadequate they are cruel.
The fact is that the minimum wage now is a poverty wage and we are about to index people into poverty under provincial plans.
The fact is that climate change may yet kill us all and we are doing next to nothing to combat the suicidal consumptive consumerism and car culture causing it.
The fact is that ideas like free education and transit will allow for far greater social inclusion and for a clearly better society.
The fact is that possible programs like Pharmacare or free dental care would make life demonstrably better for millions of people in very direct ways.
The list could go on and on.
But what it comes down to is that if we are not fighting for these things, if we are not standing up front and centre for them, they will not happen.
All the time we hear that talking about socialism and being “radical” is somehow quaint and silly while these appalling oppressions, as well as oppressions like patriarchy, colonialism, racism and homophobia endure, and while the insanity that is austerity and environmental catastrophe continue unabated.
These vicious real world cruelties and injustices happen every single day. The lack of new and serious social programs impacts the lives of real people every single day.
This is exactly why socialist ideas and leftist campaigns matter. Why they are not an intellectual exercise.
They matter because if they do not happen, these actual, real, demonstrable cruelties, injustices and oppressions that impact real people in the real world will simply continue.
It is the guaranteed outcome of not fighting for “radical” change.
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