Let’s start off with a quote by the late Eric Hobsbawm.
“It is to be noted that political conflicts provided an alternative to social conflicts: they tended to replace the vertical confrontation of the lower class against its ruler with the horizontal confrontation of Liberal communities against Conservative communities, and the occupation of the landlord’s lands with that of the murdered or expelled neighbours of a different political allegiance.”
This (i.e. the last segment of the paragraph) is specifically referring to peasant movements in Columbia, written in 1969 about the previous few decades (I am currently reading Viva La Revolución, a compilation of some of his writings about Latin America). But the premise remains important.
I wrote a piece in October last year about why I hated the terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ (will link it below) due to the toxicity of the discourse surrounding them. One could loosely equate these terms with ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ respectively. In that piece I essentially discounted them as modern buzzwords with little to no meaning, used mainly to divide people over superficial differences and to allocate people (in the minds of others) into an unrelenting mould of opposition. You support Issue A, therefore your view of Issue B must be consistent with that side. If you happen to have any semblance of individuality, this is not always the case; you may support Issue A and be reluctant to back Issue B, but then Issue C must be accounted for. I have often found myself, as a result of this, at the receiving end of degrading slurs (all equally moronic) from both the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ all because my opinion (or worse, the facts) disagree with one side’s “view”.
What I want to talk about here is how this political and ideological divide, as Hobsbawm mentions, instead diverts the attention of communities away from issues of power, be it class divides or purely authoritarian power. A key example of this is the US election in 2016, leading to the election of Donald Trump. Some of the most prominent reasons he won the election receive token mention but are soon sidelined by vague and shallow talking points. As time goes on, the investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia appears to be finally taking form (as a complete aside, I had a Facebook memory of a post I put up in January 2017 where I firmly believed the Russian conspiracy was a false and convenient deflection for the Democrats loss – at the time understandable given the lack of evidence, but they sure delivered on that front and convinced me), but it is still a minute factor in the overall process of US elections.
The absolute indifference and complacency the Democrats took to the election, believing that Hillary, by virtue of different anatomy, would win was a major reason. Trump’s campaign was nuts, with rallies across the country in places the Democrats by comparison almost ignored. The Electoral College, with a clearly racist origin, that dragged down a popular vote win was a major reason. Immense political donations that, year by year, endlessly rise to more grotesque amounts was a reason. Leaked emails, sexism, racism (outside that which has been institutionalised like the EC or prisoners losing the right to vote), Russia, etc. are all easy deflections – they absolutely played a role, but their oversaturation in the media and speeches is incredibly disproportionate to their effect.
So rather than playing along with partisan fallacies, it’s more beneficial to see these reasons as ‘class’ issues. The Democratic elite, with a complete disregard for the voters, shunned their only decent candidate – Bernie Sanders – and instead forced Clinton onto everyone everywhere. Why? Because she retained the status quo; she was beholden to her donors the same way Obama was, which led to people being disenfranchised by the Democratic Party. Bernie was, in contrast, basically a revolutionary, and he doesn’t even carry extreme beliefs. While voting for Trump was in no way better (instead much worse), this shows the ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ branding is just an illusion – both sides are of the political and/or financial elite.
The EC is an archaic system rooted in racism (basically giving states with a high population at the time – including black people – more sway in elections but withholding the vote from those black people, again at the time). It is rare to hear anyone of note question the legitimacy of the EC other than at election time, consolidating its role as simply a convoluted tool that keeps voters at arm’s length. Massive political donations have the same effect. The two party system is a slave to their corporate donors and therefore, even if the ‘people’ vote in the leader, the party will still neglect them to obey those of the elite and upper classes. While Russian influence and collusion may well lead to impeachment, such a result will still leave the very systems they abused in place for others to manipulate
This example is rather unique to the US, but also has imitations in other ‘Western’ nations like the UK, Australia, France, and Germany. Here in Australia, the Coalition (with big L Liberals, not to be confused by international folks with little l liberals) are slaves to their corporate donors; to a lesser extent, so is the Labor Party. The ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ labels are worthless when it isn’t even ideology that drives them, but money and power. Rather than looking at Pauline Hanson and screaming about how she’s for the typical Aussie, or that she’s a racist bigot, see her by her voting record – basically a wannabe Coalition member with a slightly more populist base. She is in it for her own gain, nothing else. Or look at the general media discourse, with ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ being thrown around nonchalantly. These are images specifically portrayed to set people to bicker among themselves while those that pull the strings above are safely out of the line of fire.
One incredible shift here is the continued protests in France. So many are opposing Macron’s leadership that it would be foolish to consider it a liberal or conservative uprising – it is a class struggle. Rather than being blinded by political issues, they can see that it is the class division of power that is causing them grief, and so they all protest in unison against the government. Something similar should be taking place in all countries, including Australia. As the day approaches, expect endless rants about Australia Day from all sides. Any bets on whether issues of worth, like Indigenous incarceration rates, will get worthwhile coverage, or just repeated points about when a national day takes place?
As Hobsbawm says, there has been a shift towards political rather than social conflict. This divides the people and leaves the class divisions unchecked and unbalanced. We must reverse this shift, or we – as a global entity, not just individual nations – will suffer the consequences. Nero was said to play the fiddle as Rome burned beneath him. I wonder what people will pay as the world burns all around us?
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