2013: The year of the socialist alternative

Art by Guerrilla Comunicacional

It’s that time of the year again, the time for review of the year articles, the top 10s of 2013, the political winners and the political losers. Unfortunately this article is not going to take such a clear cut stance, but it will make reference to one of the most important tends in this past year, the rise of the socialist alternative.

2013 most certainly could go down in the memories of progressives, radicals, rabble-rousers and revolutionaries as just another dull year within an infinite sea of rampant victorious capitalism. Some might say, as always amazing movements were bread in these past 365 days but none of them gave birth to anything of substance.

And such could be said of almost every year since Fukuyama, oracle in chief of the new world order, announced the  end of history. For Fukuyama and the neo-liberal guard, the fall of the wall of Berlin and the collapse of the Soviet Bloc coincided with the ushering in of a new age, a never changing age of relentless growth and prosperity, an age in which any alternative to capitalism was dead in the egg.

From the onset, Fukuyama’s divination seemed quite fragile. It foresaw a utopia on earth, but never answered the question, for whom?

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Was this the end of history? Some think so, but is that changing in 2013?

Certainly since 1989 the rapid growth of global capitalism is due to the erasing of almost every from of regulation: regulation of the financial markets or regulation of trade. In this new world the main enemy is any barrier to the complete freedom of multinationals and corporations.

In pure economic terms there is no doubt that these past decades have been fabulous for the GDP and NASDAQ and all their siblings within the family tree of economic indicators. The wild 90s and 2000s were la belle époque, but not the end of history.

For its proponents and ardent defenders the end of history was not, in any way shape or form, the end of inequality or the dawning of a more just world, quite to the contrary. For those that crafted the doublespeak rhetoric of the end of history, it literally meant that, like it or not, capitalism was here to stay. The only alternative, communism, had crumbled and thus from now on consumerism was a synonym for freedom, capitalism was liberty and inequality was the natural way of things.

On the other hand any “alternative” to the new modus operandi was thrown into the dustbin of history alongside “communism” (insert here Stalinism). Any movement that spoke of a greater redistribution of wealth or fought for the defense of the social welfare state – or as Franklin Delano Roosevelt called it, the right to an adequate standard of living – was trash.

For the neo-liberal elite, the welfare state is seen as the final frontier, a regulation of society at large that must be abolished under current standards. Thus ‘left-wing’ movements, be they social-democratic, socialist or any other alternative tendency, have been struggling for relevance in this new age and some have chosen the path of least resistance and decided to implement the norms and dictates of the end of history, somehow thinking that this would make them relevant again.

Hand in hand with this loss of relevance goes the alienation of many groups in society that have lost for faith in the democratic system in its entirety. A democratic system that offers no substantial alternative breeds in itself disaffection and apathy, slow is the death of democracy as we know it.

Michelle Bachelet during the most recent presidential election in Chile
Michelle Bachelet during the most recent presidential election in Chile

And yet the 2008 crisis has planted the seeds of something new. The world has been rocked by popular discontent voiced in different ways, in very different parts of the globe. And the year 2013 was no different with continued uprisings in Europe against austerity –the dismantling of the welfare state through brutal “structural adjustments”– uprisings in Turkey against the privatization of public spaces, here in Canada protests, led by First Nation, Inuit and Metis communities, erupted against environmental degradation for short-term profit.

But most importantly, 2013 was a year in which many struggles gained concrete victories amidst great aversion.

In Chile, Camila Vallejo, Gabriel Boric, Giorgio Jackson and Karol Cariola, leaders of the student protests that have rocked the country since 2011, were elected to parliament. Vallejo was elected on a communist ticket and that party, after the last legislative elections, has the biggest percentage of seats since the time of Salvador Allende.

Still in Chile, Michele Bachelet was reelected to the highest position in the country with a whopping 62 percent of the vote, the biggest percentage for a presidential candidate in the history of the Chilean left. Madame Bachelet was elected on a platform to continue to roll back the reforms that were ushered in under the military junta of Pinochet and to implement universal free post-secondary education.

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From Kshama Sawant’s twitter, campaign for 15 dollars minimum wage

One of the greatest victories of 2013 surprisingly had for a backdrop the United States of America. For the first time since the great depression, a major American city elect an openly socialist candidate to office.

Kshama Sawant was elected bringing to the center stage of American politics the struggle for a living wage instead of a minimum wage, rent control and higher taxes for the wealthiest. The victory of her grassroots movement is the embodiment of the Socialist Alternative that in 2013 started to dawn.

In Europe, splinter left-wing groups that offer a true alternative to the neo-liberal status-quo championed by center-center right and center-center left wing political parties are on the rise. Syriza the ‘radical’ left-wing coalition of several left-wing political parties is now given the lead in the polls. Syriza’s leader Alexis Tsipras, has been endorsed by the European left to lead a new anti-austerity coalition in the upcoming European elections.

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Syriza founding congress picture by Eleanna Kounoupa Creative Commens on Flickr

Here in Montreal, Projet Montreal more than doubled its seats in city council and has become, for the first time in history, official opposition. A coalition of progressives from all walks of life and Quebecois left-wing political tendencies has shown the way for left-wing movements to link social movements and grassroots politics to a prominent place on the political spectrum.

For these reasons the year that is now coming to end was a very fruitful one in which the alternative to this current system of savage capitalism grew in an extraordinary manner, and announced the return of history.

For this reason we have much to look forward to in 2014.

A Luta Continua

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