The term ‘socialism’ has taken a beating recently. Bandied around by slightly left-of-centre US social democrat Bernie Sanders and his zealot followers, the word has grown weary across the pond too. Fans and foes alike have hackneyed the term socialism in response to Jeremy Corbyn’s Old Labour declarations and anti-New Labour policies.
But do these hecklers and apostles understand the roots of their proclamations for or against this ideology? In short, socialism is based on “collective or state ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange.” But, when George. W. Bush is referred to as a socialist in an article referencing Bernie Sanders, we must stop and question why this term is dissipated to such an extent that it labels Tony Blair’s former ally, master of hard power politics and pretzel lover, Bush.
But, is it a good thing that the population has grown weary of policy focused populism? Or is a shift toward ideologues and partisan politics a move in the wrong direction?
In a recent interview, former North Wiltshire Conservative’s Chairman Gladys Pek Yue MacRae declared: “I find I have a Socialist Chancellor,” in response to the austerity king, Chancellor George Osborne and his less than laissez-faire policies unveiled in the 2016 budget.
And this anti-Capitalism stance has gained further momentum. In a Yougov poll conducted in February 2016, 32 per cent of those interviewed regarded socialism unfavourably, compared to 39 per cent against capitalism. Within the US, however, remnants of the Cold War dominate polls with 48 per cent viewing socialism as unfavourable as opposed to 27 per cent disliking capitalism.
So often we tend to focus on swing voters, but never on swing politicians. The shift towards an empirical attitude of voting, instead of the episodic “we can change our PM in another five years,” shows how eager the public are for ideology. Society is fed up with the likes of Labour and the Conservatives, with their carbon-copy campaigns and blank canvas leaders. The latter is clearly running dry as an effective tool. Former Labour leader, Ed Miliband, whose defeat was initially attributed to his policies being ‘too left-wing’, was noted by many to just be ‘far too boring’.
This shift toward fad politics based on martyr’s and dogma is in danger of becoming ephemeral, leading towards the more worrying paradox seen in US politics at present. The fear is that the extreme validation held by the side of the pop socialists is the antithesis of the jingoism encouraged by far-right populists. Thus, creating an increased divide between voters but, more so, further validating the over-use of idioms and tabloid, compact politics in a complex arena.
The tabloidification of politics and ideology has left us with mere idioms we hurl around in order to vent our frustration at the “fascist mass media.” Claiming to be a liberal is no easy feat either. Not now the term is haunted by visions of Nick Clegg and angry student mobs, or even worse, of Australia’s very own Donald Trump: Tony Abbott.
Could this tainted lexicon of 21st century politics be what has made the far-right so accessible? Far from the Cheshire cat of UKIP, Nigel Farage, charming his way into the hearts of British people, was it in fact his disassociation with traditional political parties and practices that led to his popularity among floating voters?
The cry for ideology and the present worship of demagogues expels a desire within the electorate to find accessible politics, as well as to unearth an identity in a world of increasing multipolarity in a geopolitical and geo-economic arena.
So, whilst pronouncing oneself as a ‘socialist’ or a ‘capitalist’ is fine, the misunderstanding of such terms (whether by the acclaiming subject or the observer) leaves us in danger of creating a dichotomy. As with dictatorial declarations of democracy, misuse of the word socialism may leave us with a visceral experience reminiscent of Cold War ‘communism’.