Fifty years from now, historians may look back on 2014 as a turning point in western politics. Yet another turning point. After nearly 30 years of the Right ascendant – dating from Reagan, Thatcher and the collapse of left wing opposition in most western countries – or in the case of England, its neutering under the market friendly war monger, Tony Blair, the left is rising again.
It is a matter of small steps and, like many changes, it all began with a book. The publication of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty First Century generated massive debate even among those who have never and will never read it. It was the first comprehensive critique of capitalism in many decades and, while Piketty himself – an unabashed Marxist – claims that he wishes to preserve the market system from its own self-destructive urges, he has renewed the debate about whether capitalism is all that it’s cracked up to be. Notably, he has called into question whether free markets produce free societies.
His general conclusion is that they do not.
Piketty is not alone about his criticism of capitalism. The new Pope, while hardly liberal on most social issues, has issued several ringing condemnations of capitalism and its impact on the environment, world peace and social justice. He too advocates reform rather than overthrow but nonetheless, it has forced a major wedge between Catholics and fundamentalist Christians in the USA. His speech this week before Congress should be… interesting.
Meanwhile in Europe, left wing parties – truly left wing parties – are making a comeback. The re-election of Syriza in Greece, when pundits and pollsters were predicting a significant loss or even a defeat at the hands of the right wing opposition, was a triumph of moderate socialism over both neo-liberal and extremist left elements. Their victory has given comfort to similar parties across Europe and could lead to some interesting results in elections this year in numerous countries. In France, the criticism of Socialist president Hollande comes as much from the left who say he is not socialist enough as from the racist right of LaPen.
The Labour party in England has also taken a hard left turn with the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader, a severe repudiation of Blair and his moderate allies. He didn’t just win; he hammered his more moderate opponents. While the hysterical right wing media proclaimed the end of Labour as a viable option and focused on his unwillingness to sing the national anthem, Corbyn himself comes across as both principled and reasoned – someone who knows what has gone wrong and means to change it. With the recent revelations of PM Cameron’s university behavior – and what it says about the British right wing – Corbyn is looking better every day.
And in America? While everyone is focusing on the antics of crazy-as-a-loon Donald Trump, avowed socialist Bernie Sanders is making inroads against heir-apparent to the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton. While I doubt either Sanders or Trump will be President, it does make for interesting times.
Meanwhile, in Canada, we wait in vain for the real left wing to show up. But Canada always does run ten years behind the times in most things.
And that’s ten minutes.